- VIDEO: Check out the video and learn what the real primary colors are.
- PASSAGE: Read about the psychology of color and how different colors can affect our choices.
- EXPERIMENT: Test yourself! How many colors can you see? What does your answer mean?
- ENGAGE: What are color schemes? What is your favorite color combination?
- GAME: Want to see how good you are at mixing colors? Try the game out.
- DATA: There are so many surprising facts about color. Come learn something new!
- YOUR TURN: Complete a cool homework assignment on everything you’ve learned.
Scientists have done many experiments in order to understand how color affects beliefs. In general, the conclusions of these studies are that color has a considerable impact on our feelings and choices.
Some color experiments have shown that packaging colors can change our perception of how foods taste. Other experiments have even demonstrated that our performance on tests can be impacted by colors we see before, or during the test.
One of the first researchers famous for studying color was a psychologist named Louis Cheskin. Cheskin observed that our sensorial experience of a package would lead us to having strong impressions of the value and worth of a product inside. Cheskin named this effect, “sensation transference” and argued that we transferred our feelings about the color of a product’s box, to our feelings about the product itself.
In one of the most famous experiments on sensation transference, identical laundry detergent was packaged in three different boxes. One box was blue, one box was yellow, and the last box was blue with a splash of yellow.
The customers who tried the three “different” detergents had strong feelings about how effectively each one worked. Many of the users complained that the yellow detergent was too harsh and ruined their clothes. The blue box detergent was decried as “weak” and many of the respondents were certain their clothes were still filthy after washing with it. But the blue box with a bit of yellow? Just right! The respondents were convinced the blue and yellow one was the perfect detergent.
There are so many more fascinating experiments that demonstrate the surprising power of color on our behavior. In one, Dr. Kate Lee gave 150 students an extremely boring job: pressing buttons over and over again to match numbers flashing on a screen. In the middle of the tedious job, the students were given a short break. During the break the first group looked out the window and saw a roof that had been painted green; the next group of kids (who did the task on another day) saw the same roof, but now it was painted gray. Even though they only had a minute to look out the window, when they returned to the work, the green roof kids did much better than the gray roof kids.
Sensation transference has impacted everything from soda can design to how well kids do on tests. For example, one study showed that soda cans with more yellow are perceived as “too lemony” compared to the exact same soda packaged in cans with less yellow.
In the study showing how color can impact test scores, a scientist named Andrew Elliot gave two different groups of kids the exact same test. One group received a test booklet with a red cover and the other group had a green cover. Guess who did worse? The kids with the red test did worse even though the test questions inside were exactly the same!
There are so many implications of this research, but perhaps one useful takeaway for students reading this passage is: never buy red notebooks for school!
What are cones and how many do you have?
While this is a bit of an oversimplification, the most basic explanation of how we see colors is that we have special “color sensing” cells in our eyes called “cone cells”. Most people have three types of cone cells, but some people only have two, and others have four. What do you have? Try this experiment and find out!
Take this fun test and see how many colors you can differentiate.
If you only have two cones, you are a “dichromat” and, like dogs who are also dichromats, you cannot see as many colors. On the other end of the spectrum are people who have four types of cone cells and can see many more colors than most. If this describes you, then like a honey bee, you are a tetrachromat. While there are people who are dichromats and tetrachromats, most people are trichromats with three cone cells.
This quick test below isn’t totally scientifically accurate, but it might give you a glimpse into how well you see a large variety of colors. The type of device you are using could affect your results. (For example, the number you get could be different on a iPad versus a laptop.) Nevertheless, it is fun to see how you compare to your friends and family. So give this fun assessment a try, and find out if you are more likely a dichromat, trichromat or tetrachromat!
The test, created by a neuroscientist named Diana Derval, is very simple. Look at the picture and simply count how many distinct colors you can see.
How many did you count?
Could you count fewer than 20 distinct colors? Awesome! You are likely a dichromat and have two cones.
Did you count between 20 and 32 different colors in the picture? Cool! You probably have three cones and are a trichromat. This is the most common cone configuration in people. You probably have cones for purple/blue, green and red.
Whoa! Did you see between 33 and 39 unique colors there? Amazing! You dear tetrachromat,, like honey bees, have a whole extra cone. You get all the trichromat cones (purple/blue, green and red) plus an extra yellow cone. Bzzzzz. While very few people are tetrachromats, many believe that tetrachromats are actually annoyed by yellow hues and will have very little yellow in their own wardrobes. If you are a tetrachromat, is this true for you?
Did you see more than 39 colors? Hmmm. You might want to try again. Truly, there are only 39 on the picture, so if you are seeing more, give it another shot.
We learned in the reading passage that specific colors can affect our beliefs and experiences. But what about how colors work together– or don’t?
Sometimes we’ll see color combinations that we really like, but other times we see color combinations that make us wince. Why do some colors go well together and other don’t?
In the same way that the foundation of music is math, so to the question of which colors work well together is based on mathematical relationships between colors. Check out this fantastic video by GCFLearnFree and discover why hue, saturation and value are the three attributes that define all colors. Then you’ll learn all about color harmony, which is all about figuring out what colors look great together!
Once you’ve watched the video, it will be your turn to try to make color palettes that look great!
Awesome! Now that you’ve seen the video you know all about these color harmony schemes:
- Split Complementary
It’s ok if you don’t remember everything about all of them. The important thing is to have fun learning and explore the ideas. So now it’s your turn! Head on over to the amazing coolors website and build some color palettes!
To use the site, hit space bar to generate a new set of random colors. When you find a color you want to keep, click the lock icon to “lock it” in place and then hit the space bar again to get new colors in the unlocked spaces. If you want to know more about what you can do on coolors, step through the tutorial, which you can find right where that green arrow is pointing.Fun ProjectWhat are your favorite color combinations on coolors? Did you find a color palette you love? If so, and if you have a big box of crayons, colored pencils or pens, try to pick out the ones that most closely match what you made on coolors. It’s fine if they don’t match exactly, just get as close as you can. Now, try drawing a picture with only those four colors from the palette you built. Awesome! How did it turn out? Post it on Instagram or Twitter, and use the hashtag: #HSHDColorProject to share it with us!
Have you ever switched off the lights and noticed a dark grey color in that instant between the lights going out and complete darkness? That dark gray has a name: eigengrau or “brain gray”. Eigengrau is a vocab word not many people know. See if you can use it in a sentence today! (Listen below to hear how to pronounce it.)
Did you know that there are “impossible colors.” These are colors that human eyes ordinarily cannot see, but that are created in your mind in response to eye fatigue.
If you stare at a color for a while, for example yellow, and then immediately shift your focus to something black, you will briefly see blue (even though no blue is there). These are a type of impossible colors are called “chimerical”.
Want to experience it yourself? Cover the black box on the right and stare at the “x” in the middle of the yellow circle for about twenty seconds. Then, cover the box with yellow and stare at the “x” in the black box. Do you see a blue glow? Congratulations, you just “saw” an impossible color!
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