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Karen Schloss, Yun-hsuan Lai, Christoph Witzel; Yellow is no happier than blue when lightness and chroma are controlled. Journal of Vision 2016;16(12):624. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/16.12.624.
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Color is important for conveying emotion, especially in art and design. However, there are commonly held notions, such as "yellow is happy" and "blue is sad," which are not well understood and can lead to erroneous assumptions. In particular, prototypical yellow is lighter than prototypical blue, so yellow-happy, blue-sad associations may actually be driven by differences in lightness, not hue. If so, then darkening yellow would make it sad and blue would be as happy as yellow if it were equally light. We tested these possibilities by having participants (n=20) judge the happiness/sadness of 32 colors (8 hues x 2 chroma levels x 2 lightness levels) controlled for chroma (C*) and lightness (L*). The colors were sampled from CIE L*C*h space (calculated from CIE L*a*b*). We found that 94% of the variance in mean ratings was explained by lightness (82%; lighter colors being happier), chroma (additional 6%; higher chroma colors being happier), and b* (additional 6%; bluer, not yellower, colors being happier). A mixed effects linear regression further revealed lightness x chroma (p< .01) and lightness x b* (p< .001) interactions. Increasing chroma and blueness made darker colors happier, but had little (chroma) or no (blueness) effect for lighter colors. However, hues of the same C* and L* do not always appear equally saturated (Fairchild, 2005) so it is possible that darker bluer colors were happier because they appeared more saturated. To test this possibility we repeated the experiment on colors with perceptually matched saturation within each lightness level (following Witzel and Franklin's (2014) procedure). We conclude that the notion of yellow being happier than blue is driven primarily by lightness, not hue, and current hue-focused attempts to understand color-emotion associations are misguided. Research on why colors have particular emotion associations should shift focus to effects of lightness and chroma.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2016
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