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Ecological Valence and Human Color Preferences

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Why do people like some colors more than others? Why do they have color preferences at all? Recent results from the Berkeley Color Project (BCP) provide intriguing answers based on people's emotional responses to diagnostically colored objects. We report preferences among 32 chromatic colors from 48 adults in the San Francisco Bay area and describe their fit to several color preference models, including ones based on cone outputs, color-emotion associations, and our own ecological valence theory (EVT). The EVT postulates that color serves an adaptive “steering” function, analogous to taste preferences, by biasing organisms to approach advantageous objects and avoid disadvantageous ones. It implies that people will tend to like colors to the extent that they like the objects that are characteristically that color, averaged over all such objects. The EVT predicts 80% of the variance in average color preference ratings from the Weighted Affective Valence Estimates (WAVEs) of correspondingly colored objects, much more variance than any of the other models. We also describe how hue preferences for single colors differ as a function of gender, expertise, culture, social institutions, and perceptual experience.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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  • CIC is the premier annual technical gathering for scientists, technologists, and engineers working in the areas of color science and systems, and their application to color imaging. Participants represent disciplines ranging from psychophysics, optical physics, image processing, color science to graphic arts, systems engineering, and hardware and software development. While a broad mix of professional interests is the hallmark of these conferences, the focus is color. CICs traditionally offer two days of short courses followed by three days of technical sessions that include three keynotes, an evening lecture, a vibrant interactive (poster) papers session, and workshops. An endearing symbol of the meeting is the Cactus Award, given each year to the author(s) of the best interactive paper; there are also Best Paper and Best Student Paper awards.

    Please note: for Purposes of its Digital Library content, IS&T defines Open Access as papers that will be downloadable in their entirety for free in perpetuity. Copyright restrictions on papers vary; see individual paper for details.

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