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

Oct

11

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.