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How do babies see colour?



Dr Anna Franklin introduces ‘The Sussex Baby Lab’, which has just opened in the School of Psychology. The Sussex Baby Lab aims find out how babies as young as 4-months old see think and learn.  

When I tell people that I run a Baby Lab, I usually get a few puzzled faces - perhaps this conjures up funny images of babies wearing white lab coats looking down microscopes.  A Baby Lab is in fact a place where babies and their parents help researchers to find out what babies can understand, how babies experience the world around them, and how babies develop and learn. 

Babies play fun, specially designed games with researchers, or look at images whilst researchers observe how the babies react and behave, or record what the babies look at.  It may look like it’s just a lot of fun, but the babies are actually helping Baby Lab researchers answer a range of important questions such as: ‘how long can babies remember something for?’, ‘can babies recognise their mother’s face?’, or even ‘can babies count?’

Our current project is called the ‘Rainbow Project’ and we are trying to find out how babies see colour.  The Rainbow Project is part of a bigger project led by The Sussex Colour Group, and the European Research Council has kindly provided the funds for this research. 

During a half an hour visit we show the babies a series of colours and record what they look at to find out whether they recognise changes in colour.  From research that has been done in the past, we know that babies see colour even when they are newborns (it is a myth that babies see in black and white!)  Now we want to know how good babies are at noticing changes in colour, and in particular we want to know whether babies group colours in a similar way to adults. 

We carry out our research in the newly built Sussex Child Research Hub, which is a suite of rooms specially designed for research on child development.  Along with the Baby Lab, there are other research teams who do their research in the hub, and children of all ages visit the space to take part in research that aims to understand a range of issues such as anxiety in children or how toddlers learn words (e.g., see the CATT Lab and WORD Lab).  The hub has several play areas for children of different ages where we can also explain the research to parents, along with multiple rooms with state-of-the-art facilities for doing research with babies and children.  Up to nine or ten families may visit the hub each day. 

The Sussex Baby Lab is currently looking for babies to help us with our research.  If you would like your baby to take part then you can find out more on the Sussex Baby Lab website:, or email / call a member of the Baby Lab team on:, 01273 873300.  You can also get regular updates on Baby Lab news at

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'Easy for the eye’: Why we have favourite colours



People like some colours more than others. This can influence our behaviour in important ways in guiding how we dress, shop and decorate. We don’t yet fully understand why some colours are more or less preferred, but it appears that preference can be influenced by the way colour is processed by the brain.

Lewis Forder, a current PhD student and winner of this year’s PhD poster competition, clearly explains why have colour preferences.

Colour spectrum

Colour is important. Indeed, which colours people like and why has been investigated for decades. People’s preference for certain colours has been stated to be stable in that they don’t change over time and that there exist predictable patterns of preference across the colour spectrum. On average, blues and greens emerge as favourites whilst darker yellows and desaturated violets are less preferred. The question is why.

The frequency with which particular colours are encountered varies across the world. It’s been suggested that preference is consequently driven by one’s environment and culture. Another idea is that colour preference comes down to how much we like or dislike objects that are associated with that colour. For example, on the one hand sky-blue and forest-green are highly preferred whilst on the other sick-yellow is not. 

In our investigations, we found that the fluency of processing a colour can play a role in our preference for that colour. By using a simple detection task to probe how long people take to see different colours, we then measured how much people liked the colours afterwards. For those seen quicker than average, people’s preference was elevated relative to the other colours.

It seems preference for some colours can be malleable rather than stable: People like a colour more when it can be processed more easily. It’s well known within cognitive science that people tend to show greater preference for things that are easier to process. What we show here is that the ‘cognitive fluency’ hypothesis is also applicable in determining how much we like particular colours. What’s the implication of this? When a colour is easy for the eye, you’ll tend to like it.