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Red, yellow, green and blue are not particularly colorful

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posted on 2023-06-12, 09:17 authored by Christoph Witzel, John MauleJohn Maule, Anna FranklinAnna Franklin
Colorfulness and saturation have been neglected in research on color appearance and color naming. Perceptual particularities, such as cross-cultural stability, “focality”, “uniqueness”, “salience” and “prominence” have been observed for red, yellow, green, and blue, when those colors were more saturated than other colors in the stimulus samples. The present study tests whether high saturation is a particular property of red, yellow, green and blue, which would explain those observations. First, we carefully determined the category prototypes and unique hues for red, yellow, green, and blue. Using different approaches in two experiments, we assessed discriminable saturation as the number of just-noticeable differences away from the adaptation point (i.e. neutral gray). Results show that some hues can reach much higher levels of maximal saturation than others. However, typical and unique red, yellow, green, and blue are not particularly colorful. Many other, intermediate colors have a larger range of discriminable saturation than these colors. These findings suggest that prior claims of perceptual salience of category prototypes and unique hues actually reflect biases in stimulus sets rather than perceptual properties. Additional analyses show that consistent prototype choices across fundamentally different languages are strongly related to the variation of discriminable saturation in the stimulus sets. Our findings also undermine the idea that every color can be produced by a mixture of unique hues. Finally, the measurements in this study provide a large amount of data on saturation across hues, which allows for reevaluating existing estimates of saturation in future studies.


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Journal of Vision




Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalomology





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  • Psychology Publications

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