Universal color

An article on the New Scientist website suggests that people perceive color universally. This is good news for all the graders out there.
Read on for the story.

From http://www.newscientist.com/channel/being-human/mg18625015.500

THE palette that colours our perception of the world is universal, according to a survey of 110 different cultures. So when it comes to choosing the reddest red or the bluest blue, everyone tends to go for the same hue.

This is perplexing, says Paul Kay at the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley, California, because it implies that there is something fundamental about these focal colours. But it is not clear why this should be so. For example, there is nothing in the physics of light to preclude some cultures from choosing an oranger red or a more turquoisey blue. “Physics really has nothing to do with it,” says Kay.

Though previous research had hinted at these findings it focused on a small number of related cultures where a shared history might have accounted for the pattern. To rule this out, Kay and his team tested an average of 24 speakers in each of 110 unwritten languages, including Konkomba from Ghana, Martu-Wangka from Australia and Campa from Peru.

The researchers asked the participants to choose from an array of 330 colours the shades that came closest to their absolute for each hue. Most subjects chose similar colours (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0503281102). Kay suggests that the common palette emerges because of similarities in the way our brains are wired.

Posted: August 20th, 2005
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