A systematic investigation of conceptual colour associations.

DIANA SU YUN THAM, Paul Sowden, Alexandra Grandson, Anna Franklin, Anna Lee, Michelle Ng, Juhyun Park, Weiguo Pang, Jingwen Zhao

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Associations with colours are a rich source of meaning and there has been considerable interest in understanding the capacity of colour to shape our functioning and behaviour as a result of colour associations. However, abstract conceptual colour associations have not been comprehensively investigated and many of the effects of colour on psychological functioning reported in the literature are therefore reliant on ad hoc rationalisations of conceptual associations with colour (e.g. blue – openness) to explain effects. In the present work we conduct a systematic, cross-cultural, mapping of conceptual colour associations using the full set of hues from the World Colour Survey (WCS). In Experiments 1a and 1b we explored the conceptual associations that English monolingual, Chinese bilingual and Chinese monolingual speaking adults have with each of the 11 Basic English Colour Terms (black, white, red, yellow, green, blue, brown, purple, pink, orange, grey). In Experiment 2 we determined which specific physical WCS colours are associated with which concepts in these three language groups. The findings reveal conceptual colour associations that appear to be ‘universal’ across all cultures (e.g. white – purity; blue – water/sky related; green – health; purple – regal; pink – ‘female’ traits) as well as culture specific (e.g. red and orange – enthusiastic in Chinese; red – attraction in English). Importantly, the findings provide a crucial constraint on, and resource for, future work that seeks to understand the effect of colour on cognition and behaviour, enabling stronger a priori predictions about universal as well as culturally relative effects of conceptual colour associations on cognition and behaviour to be systematically tested.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1311-1332
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number7
Early online date25 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2020


  • color association
  • color psychology
  • cross-cultural
  • color language
  • color cognition
  • Cross-cultural
  • Color association
  • Color cognition
  • Color psychology
  • Color language


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