Delwin T. Lindsey, Angela M. Brown, Aimee N. Violette, Ryan Lange, Prutha S. Deshpande

Color sorting and color term evolution

  • General Chemical Engineering
  • General Chemistry
  • Human Factors and Ergonomics

AbstractWhen participants sort color samples into piles, Boster showed that their color groupings can resemble the “stages” of Kay and McDaniel's model of color term evolution. Boster concluded that both the unfolding of color piles in a sequential color sorting task and the unfolding of color terms according to Kay and McDaniel's model reveal how human beings understand color. If this is correct, then: (1) pile sorts should be reasonably robust across variations in the palette of colors to be sorted, as long as the palette contains good examples of Berlin and Kay's universal color categories, and (2) pile‐sorting should be more related to lexical effects and less related to perceptual processes governed by similarity judgments alone. We report three studies on English speakers and Somali speakers (Study 1 only), where participants sorted colors into 2…6 piles. The three studies used varying numbers of palette colors (25, 30, or 145 colors) and varying chromaticity schemes (mainly hue, widely‐separated in hue and lightness, or densely distributed at high chroma). We compared human sorting behavior to Kay and McDaniel's model and to the “optimal” patterns of color sorting predicted by Regier's well‐formedness statistic, which quantifies the perceived similarity between colors. Neither hypothesis is confirmed by the results of our studies. We propose that color sorts are determined by pragmatic influences based on heuristics that are inspired by the palette of colors that are available and the task that the viewer is asked to perform.

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