September 2011
Volume 11, Issue 11
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2011
Color, music, and emotion
Author Affiliations
  • Stephen E. Palmer
    Psychology Department, U. C. Berkeley, USA
  • Thomas Langlois
    Psychology Department, U. C. Berkeley, USA
  • Tawny Tsang
    Psychology Department, U. C. Berkeley, USA
  • Karen B. Schloss
    Psychology Department, U. C. Berkeley, USA
  • Daniel J. Levitin
    Psychology Department, McGill University, Canada
Journal of Vision September 2011, Vol.11, 391. doi:
  • Views
  • Share
  • Tools
    • Alerts
      This feature is available to authenticated users only.
      Sign In or Create an Account ×
    • Get Citation

      Stephen E. Palmer, Thomas Langlois, Tawny Tsang, Karen B. Schloss, Daniel J. Levitin; Color, music, and emotion. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):391.

      Download citation file:

      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

  • Supplements

Arnheim (1986) speculated that different aesthetic domains (e.g., color and music) might be related to each other through common emotional associations. We investigated this hypothesis by having participants pick from among an array of 37 colors the five colors that went best (and later the five that went worst) with each of a set of musical selections that varied in composer, tempo, and mode (major/minor). They also rated each musical selection and each color for its emotional associations (happy-sad, lively-dreary, strong-weak, angry-calm). For both orchestral music and solo piano music, systematic mappings were found between the dimensions of color and music: faster music and major mode were associated with lighter, more saturated, yellower colors, whereas slower music and minor mode were associated with darker, desaturated, bluer colors. These mappings appear to be mediated by common emotional associations, because the correlation between emotional ratings of the musical selections and emotional ratings of the colors chosen to go with them were extremely high (0.90 to 0.98) for all emotional dimensions studied (e.g., people picked happy colors to go with happy music and dreary colors to go with dreary music). Further studies using better-controlled musical stimuli (unaccompanied theme-and-variation melodies by Mozart) dissociated effects due to instrumental timbre (piano/cello), register (high/low pitch), and note density (quarter-note theme vs. eighth-note variation), as well as tempo and mode from the specific influences of different melodic and harmonic structure in the earlier studies. The mediating role of emotion was established by obtaining analogous effects when people picked the colors that went best (and worst) with faces and body poses that expressed emotions (happy-sad and angry-calm). Similarly high correlations were obtained when the emotional ratings of the faces/gestures were compared with corresponding emotional ratings of the colors chosen to go with them.


This PDF is available to Subscribers Only

Sign in or purchase a subscription to access this content. ×

You must be signed into an individual account to use this feature.