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The Aesthetics of Color: A Review of Fifty Years of Experimentation

Author(s): Victoria K. Ball

Source: The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Summer, 1965), pp. 441-452

Published by: Wiley on behalf of The American Society for Aesthetics

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The Aesthetics of Color: A Review of

Fifty Years of Experimentation

INTRODUCTION has seemed representative, comprehensive,

and significant from this list.
This article considers some aspects of the
scientific literature which relates to the COLOR AESTHETICS
subject of how color affects people aesthet- The ultimate reason for any scientific
ically. The phrase, affective response, is used study of color is to learn how to utilize
as a general term for the feeling and emo- color so as to have a predictable effect on
tional qualities of experience. The concep-
tion of aesthetics, for the present study, is people. Many color effects are physiological
in origin. Others are clearly physical. In
limited to an attempt to understand the this short commentary we are not primarily
value estimates which such affective re- concerned with the overtly physical effects
sponses may induce in the pleasant-un- which color is known to have on the human
pleasant, beautiful-ugly continuum. organism, such as the relation between re-
If knowledge of this complex matter is flectance and visibility or that of wave-
to be scientific, it must be both quantita-
length to transmission of ultraviolet radia-
tively and qualitatively usable for future tion. A knowledge of these effects may well
prediction. This statement, however, when influence one's reactions to color, but such
related to human ecology, must be con- effects are not the direct cause of the affec-
strued in a somewhat liberal fashion. Nev- tions.
ertheless it should mean that accurate con- An understanding of how color can affect
trol of color environment can be counted
people is the realm of color aesthetics.
upon to influence human reactions in a Each of the authoritative books which we
predictable manner. The extent to which have listed2' 3 devotes pages to this matter.
scientific literature agrees that this is pos- It seems to us that they concur in the con-
sible and the direction it indicates for fu- clusion, "There is as yet no extensive sci-
ture study of the question are the topics for entific knowledge about how colors affect
The material for these notes has been people, but some start has been made in the
taken from a record of experiments on experimental determination of the basic
facts of color aesthetics." In the present ar-
color as found in the professional psycho-
ticle, which is merely a personal record of
logical journals during this century.' An thoughts about the experimentation which
effort has been made to understand what has been painstakingly conducted for more
VICTORIAKLOSSBALLis professor of interior design
than half a century, I would like to voice
at Western Reserve University and author of my conviction that possibly more real prog-
The Art of Interior Design published in 1960. ress has been made than the scientists them-

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selves may acknowledge. Certainly more were performed in an attempt to ascertain

can be done, but directions have been set the color choices of all kinds of people, at
and some conclusions seem valid. all age levels, of both sexes, and of various
Experimental tests for color affects have races. (Tabulation of these investigations
been made both in controlled situations in may be found in the Chandler and Barn-
psychological laboratories and in more hart and in the Hammond bibliographies.)'
casual environments. The latter variety of As the number of single colors increased
more pragmatic testing has utilized the re- or the combinations became more complex,
sults of such data as came from consumers' the results became more diverse and confus-
polls, sales' records, or the clocking opera- ing. Gustav von Allesch,8 who had experi-
tions which tabulated the time consumers mented widely on the subject, concluded in
spent in looking at merchandise in various 1925 that all hope of finding consistent re-
colors. Investigation outside the laboratory actions to colors would have to be aban-
undoubtedly records an unpremeditated doned.
and hence an ingenuous emotional reaction These early and numerous experiments
to color, whereas laboratory tests tend to were made when color and viewing condi-
arouse an intellectual and critical response tions were not well standardized. In an ex-
such as may be quite different from a truly periment made in 1908 by Edward Bul-
affective one. If the findings of non-labora- lough,9 for example, there were thirty-five
tory trials are promoted with sensitivity subjects who used colored papers under
and sincerity, they merit careful considera- "standardized" light. In 1909, W. H.
tion. However, such experimentation has Winch10 used many children and carefully
had too little systematic ordering to be con- prepared light. But color names rather than
sidered of great help in drawing conclu- actual colors were presented and the chil-
sions which would have universal verity. dren were asked to select the name repre-
The psychological scaling methods used senting the color they liked the best and
in laboratory testing in matters of color thought the prettiest. Again in a later ex-
aesthetics are different from the psycho- periment of Bullough's," the thirty sub-
physical methods used in determining re- jects used thirty-eight swatches of colored
lationships between color stimuli and ap- silks. In an experiment in 1913 the affective
pearance because the end results are not value of colored lights was probed by 340
equated with physical scales but with psy- psychology students.12 F. F. Dashiell used
chological ones.4 Objectivity then must be Milton Bradley colored papers, never too
understood to "signify a relative and prac- standardized, when he worked with 212
tical measure of how far a belief has ceased kindergarten pupils in 1913.13 The testees
to be merely individual and ephemeral, in M. F. Washburn's14 experiment in 1911
and has grown to represent the tested ex- were thirty-five women working with ninety
perience of humanity." 5 colors, the exact quality of which was not
The earliest laboratory experiments were specified. S. E. Katz and F. S. Breed15 inves-
concerned with testing for color pref- tigated the color preferences of 2,500 chil-
erences. This initial approach was interest- dren in 1922. But they used only six sat-
ing, practical, and in line with gestalt urated colors pasted on white cardboard.
reasoning which had led from Katz, Wer- J. P. Guilford,16 as late as 1934, working
theimer, and Kohler.6 The first work was with forty subjects, described his material
done by J. Cohn working in Wundt's labo- as "nearly as possible in the Milton Bradley
ratory in 1894.7 He worked with a limited colors." Washburn,17 in the same year, used
number of colors shown on papers a few "a saturated red, orange, yellow, green,
inches square. He reported that in general blue and violet and a lighter tint and a
individual choices differed most with re- darker shade of these colors." The samples
spect to hue and that pairs showing strong were 5 cm. in one set and 25 cm. in the
contrasts were preferred. other. The viewing room was described as
Throughout the first quarter of this cen- "artificially lighted."
tury a great number of similar experiments In 1941 H. J. Eysenckl8 wrote an article

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The Aesthetics of Color 443
summarizing the results of many experi- entirely neglected, the questions relating
ments on color preferences. The total num- to "why" rather than to "what" have been
ber of persons whose opinions were re- given increasing prominence. There is dan-
ported was 21,060. The total weighted ger in any probing into the causes of a
average of preference would confirm blue problem, the danger that deduction will
as the most preferred color and yellow as be hypothecated and induction from ob-
the least, with a high percentile of agree- served facts will be forgotten. However, a
ment between the sexes and the races. De- knowledge of reasons may help in predict-
spite these compiled statistics, Eysenck's ing results and, if factually handled, may be
expressed opinion is similar to Von Allesch's of great value. David Katz said,
of sixteen years previous that
The science of today is at least as much in-
little agreement has been reached even in the terested in the genetic problem of 'whence' as it
most fundamental points; namely, (1) the ex- is in the problem of 'what' and for this reason
istence of a general order of preference for full justice must be accorded to the point of
view of developmental psychology.23
colors, (2) the relative popularity of saturated
colors, and (3) differences for preferences for
colors between the sexes. The new approach to the color problem
thus suggested does not turn its back upon
Eysenck concurs in the opinion that the un- gestalt psychology. As W. C. T. Prentice
standardized conditions used in the experi- says,
ments account for many of the differences The existence of an orderly structure in no way
in the results.
prevents analysis of the nature of that struc-
In glancing back once more to the early ture. A common misunderstanding of the gestalt
experiments, it is apparent that the inves- theoretical position has been the interpretation
that it is antianalytic, whereas it merely insists
tigators were conscious that the problem of that the type of analysis chosen should reflect
color preferences was a complex one. The the realities of the phenomena investigated.24
question about preferences for grouped
colors had not escaped consideration. As Why are some colors preferred to others?
might have been expected there was less J. P. Guilford25 suggests a physiological
unanimity shown in preferences for these basis for color preferences. The harmonious
colors than there had been for single ones. colors selected by his observers were found
In dealing with several colors at once, the to fall into two groups, "one with yellow
question about rules or principles of com- low and blue high, and the other with red,
bining which would render the group ac- blue and green high and yellow, bluegreen
ceptable or harmonious appeared. First and violet low." Guilford suggests that
there was the attempt to discern whether these two harmonies "actually represent
the preferences for the single colors in a two different systems of color appreciation."
combination would affect the preference He believes that they are bound up with
for the total.19 Although the pleasantness two corresponding systems of color vision.
seemed not to be additive, nevertheless it He concludes that the Ladd-Franklin
was found that the greater the pleasantness theory whereby color vision occurs in two
of the single colors, the greater that of the evaluatory phases is really supported by his
combination. experiments.
In dealing with several colors at one time Most color psychologists believe that
it was apparent that other design factors color affections are too involved to be ex-
than that of color became increasingly im- plained solely on a physiological hypoth-
portant in final verdicts.20Shape has proved esis. As early as 1908, Edward Bullough,
of special significance in this connection.21 working from the psychological laboratory
The element of time was likewise given at Cambridge, advanced personality rea-
consideration.22 sons for the diversity of results. He said,
The number of experiments exclusively
The object of this set of experiments is the in-
concerned with color preferences has di-
vestigation of a problem of color perception
minished in recent years. Although never more fundamental than the barren question

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whether certain colors are per se and universally
lough reports that all of the subjects found
pleasing, and more fundamental than the in-
vestigation into the part which tone, saturation,
difficulty in crossing over from criticism
and luminosity play in color preferences. This is into creativity. Those subjects who had se-
the perceptive problem.26 lected colors because of the way these colors
made them feel (the physiological type) had
Bullough's subjects were asked, when least difficulty in creating. The most con-
confronted with colors, to give "judgments, sistent of the character-type personnel like-
not preferences," and to give introspective wise seemed to have little difficulty making
evidence concerning the reasons which choices and they seemed to enjoy the exer-
prompted their opinions. In Bullough's cise most.
first experiment, in which he used single This is one reason that Bullough con-
colors, it was discovered that some ob- siders the character-type persons as the ones
servers were affected by an attribute of the most likely to possess aesthetic apprecia-
color such as saturation or "luminosity." tion. In their judgments of color there
This group Bullough called the objective seemed to be a freedom from purely per-
type of observer. Others associated the color sonal factors, from accidental memories,
with external objects and thus were only in- and irrational associations. This makes the
directly affected. This number constituted colors exist as independent entities. Such
the associative type. Another group found objective reality coupled with the essen-
themselves affected emotionally by the tially emotional tone with which the char-
color. Yellow, for instance, made them feel acterization is invested is, in Bullough's
cheerful. This section Bullough called the opinion, characteristic of the aesthetic ex-
physiological type. Still other subjects re- perience.
sponded to what he called the character of One very important surmise to emerge
the color, the expression in a color of what from this second experiment was concerned
in a human would be called his "character, with the developmental character of the
mood or temperament." This was the char- various perceptive types. In this progres-
acter type of observer. sion, the associative type seemed to be a
In Bullough's second experiment, deal- side issue because each of the other classes
ing with color combinations rather than might occasionally adopt associative criteria
with single colors, it was found that the as the basis for their judgments. Bullough
subjects fell into the same perceptive types says that no subject ever adopts character
and that most of the observers played criteria unless he is a character perceptive
similar roles in the two tests. In the first type. Character types frequently show phys-
part of this experiment where the subjects iological discriminations which leads Bul-
were asked to comment on the pleasantness lough to assume that the physiological
of the color combinations and to give their group is an introductory phase of the char-
reasons for the decision, the objective ob- acter type. The objective class seems to be
servers made such comments as, "the colors basic because the physiological thinkers
had a bad mutual effect." The physiological often revert to such standards for judg-
type called the grouped colors depressing, ments.
gloomy, cold, and exciting. The character At this point Bullough introduces an
type thought of the colors as shallow, lov- idea which he feels is substantiated by the
able, delicate. The associative type again evidence. He says that the non-objective
made their judgments on the basis of the types are synaesthetic with respect to their
relation of the colors in flowers or autumn judgments about color. They easily make
landscapes. transitions between sensuous categories and
In the second part of the color combina- thus think metaphorically. The objective
tion experiment Bullough tried to call thinkers are more analytic in their ap-
creativity into being. The subjects were to proach to color. One interesting idea of
make color "harmonies" and then to com- Bullough's is that the synaesthetic types
ment upon them. It is of interest that Bul- may be educated to see objectively but that

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The Aesthetics of Color 445
the reverse is seldom true; the bonds which affects (to which Chandler does not
tie synaesthetic experiences into one bundle give a type name but which might
cannot be created at will. be called physiological-emotional,
In 1934, Albert R. Chandler27 reviewed or simply emotional affects.)
the principal experiments on both pleas- -character estimates such as pride,
antness and expressiveness of colors and stupidity, friendliness.
color combinations. Chandler agreed that -many varieties of harmony and dis-
Von Allesch's summary was the most con- cord among colors. (These would
clusive verdict because of the great care depend upon the type of percep-
exercised by the latter over a long period of tion induced, as presented in Bul-
time. He likewise agreed with Bullough lough's second experiment.)
that pleasantness and its opposite are not 3. Secondary effects.
the only experiences evoked by color. In -pleasantness and unpleasantness.
addition to this acknowledgment to Bul- -complex affects such as fascination,
lough, Chandler analyzes the studies of F. boredom, and repulsion.
Stefanescu-Goanga28who worked in Leipzig Color effects, according to Chandler, "are
during the first part of this century. never absolute but are relative to the total
Stefanescu-Goanga did not categorize his situation." He likewise subscribes to Bul-
subjects into types but he agreed with Bul- lough's and Stefanescu-Goanga's belief that
lough that different subjects observe color the developmental order of color affects
in different ways. The new conception in proceeds in one direction and is generally
terms of development which Stefanescu- not reversible.
Goanga contributed was "that feeling de- If "some few or many of the primary
veloped before associations, and that ideas factors conspire to produce some of the
did not evoke feelings but rather the re- primary effects," then it is certainly desir-
verse, feelings evoke ideas." 27 able that the student learn about the pri-
Chandler then outlines a developmental mary factors. The data relative to these has
hierarchy which seems to me to have the been well substantiated. Only one point,
utmost importance for experimentation on probably too self-evident to need mention-
color. His logical order presents a key for ing, could be added. Color in order to have
analytical studies no matter what concep- any psychological effect on the organism
tion of psychology may be currently held. must first be attended to. This means giv-
Chandler's order is as follows: ing some attention to the stimulus. M.
1. Primary factors. Meenes29 has shown that in a series of
-the objective color as apprehended. paired colors, only those which attract our
This takes into consideration the attention influence our judgment. Franklin
actual color, its background, its 0. Smith30 has graded colors with respect
immediate context, the pervasive to visibility in the order of Orange, Yellow,
and persistent contexts (Bullough's Green, Red, and Blue. This order is ac-
associations), and the health (mood) centuated in visual power when the colors
of the observer. are likewise paired with respect to differ-
2. Primary effects. ences in brightness.
-the classification and naming of the Ruth Staples31 performed many experi-
color. ments with infants on the assumption that
-warmth, coolness, approach, re- a child before the age of six months would
treat, lightness, heaviness affects only be affected by color at the attention
(which he rightly calls physiologi- level. The attention span of the infant to
cal. Note that Chandler divides colored discs became the determining fac-
Bullough's physiological type into tor. The results of her experiments indi-
two categories. His second of these cated that chromatic color will be perceived
two follows.) before achromatic color and that the hues
-excitement, depression, the soothing in the order of their attention-gaining

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potential are Yellow, Blue, Red, and Green. bright colors seem nearer than those with
As the child grows older, up to two years, less reflectance.37
there is a gradual tendency for red to be In addition to assuming qualities rightly
noticed longer. At school age red is sur- belonging to the visual component shape or
passed by blue. Inasmuch as other factors extent, color can likewise convey the im-
are operating by this time, the tests are no pression of the other senses. The first of
longer valid registers of solely the attention these is the kinaesthetic sense and the im-
factor. pression of weight. Bullough38 as early as
Other experiments32 indicate that con- 1906 supports the statement that dark
texual matters operate with color to rivet colors appear heavier than light ones. The
the attention. This indicates that, in ad- hue of the color will aid in supporting the
dition to color visibility, we are confronted impression of weight.39 For instance in
with the problem of what might be named paired comparisons, a red or black object
the visual force of a color. David Katz33has is judged heavier than a yellow or a blue
equated this quality with insistence, "the one. Hues appear to range from heavy to
boring into one's consciousness." Visibility light in this order, Red, White, Orange,
may be thought of as a purely physical and Violet, Green, Purple, Blue, and Yellow.
physiological way to gain attention. In- Josef Albers in his series of paintings, Hom-
sistence or visual force has made added use age to a Square Ascending, has experi-
of psychological factors for this purpose. mented visually with this synaesthetic ca-
Synaesthesis, which Bullough found so pability of color.
important, now begins to enter the picture. The impression of temperature is easily
This, as we previously mentioned, is the conveyed by color. Despite small isolated
strange symbolic power of the mind experiments40 which might indicate other-
whereby phenomena in one field of experi- wise, it is generally conceded that colors in
ence cross wires with those which exist in the red-orange range give the greatest im-
other ones to become a synecdoche for an pression of warmth and that the coolest
entire group of affections, thereby gaining colors are oriented toward the blue-green.41
immensely in riveting force. Rudolf Arnheim offers a possible connec-
Through synaesthesis color can be identi- tion between the sensation of sight and the
fied with the other sensations. Experiments tactile sense when he writes,
validating this are relatively conclusive. We are dealing here not with a transfer of skin
Some of these psychological alignments of sensations to seeing, but with a structural qual-
color, especially those which link colors ity common to both senses. It is as though the
color creates a reaction also evoked by heat
with other visual components, are probably stimulation and the words "warm and cold" are
closely linked to physical causes. Light ob- used to describe colors simply because the ex-
jects, for instance, seem to appear larger pressive quality in question is strongest and
biologically most important in the realm of the
than dark ones of the same size.34The long
temperature sense.4
wavelength hues generally seem closer
than the short wavelength ones.35 On the Experiments relating color to sounds
other hand, R. M. Hanes,36 in a controlled seem to bear out Stefanescu-Goanga's con-
tention that feelings come before associa-
experiment with an actual room set-up at tions, at least in the realm of color. For in-
Johns Hopkins University, obtained the stance, D. M. Howells43
result that hues seem to advance in the reports that when
pairing organ tones with colors, the testees
following order, Yellow, Green, Red, Blue. failed to make any associative links even
This is true even when the subjects had after
seeing a certain color while hearing a
held the opinion that the order should certain note
many times. When they re-
have been Red, Yellow, Blue, Green. More- acted to the colors and notes in the same
over, quite contrary to the opinion of the way, or said that they obtained the same
group as expressed in answer to a previous feeling from both, then they associated
questionnaire, black receded and white ad- them in an unforgettable manner. Again, in
vanced. Other experiments indicate that another experiment, the authors44 found

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The Aesthetics of Color 447
that the relation between colors and musi- In surveying these results it is apparent
cal tones was only made through the inter- that as one travels down the categories of
mediary of a mood expression. There does developmental effects which either Bul-
not seem to be as direct synaesthesis be- lough, Stefanescu-Goanga, or Chandler
tween the auditory sense and the sense of suggests, contextual matters may cause
sight as expressed in color, as there is be- diversification of opinions. Likewise it is
tween the latter and the tactile, kinaes- obvious that the experiments are not de-
thetic, or visual as expressed in extent. To signed to separate emotional mood-tones
my knowledge there has been no major ex- from more complex character perceptions.
perimentation on the synaesthesis of color Even physiological terms get somehow
and the olfactory sense or the sense of taste. mixed up with the feeling terms. It would
True affections, what William James seem that a careful separation of the dif-
called "feeling tones," can be most readily ferent kinds of affects being tested for might
produced through colors. Many of the re- be of advantage in gaining some degree of
cent experiments are directed toward find- unanimity of results. This might help in
ing a pattern of emotional reactions to analyzing the problem of why certain colors
colors. From two such experiments45 the are liked by various persons.
following chart might be made: No real experimentation has been done
Red is not only exciting; it is cheerful, on character perceptions as related to color
defiant, and powerful. since the early experiments of Bullough
Black is distressed, despondent, and de- and his contemporaries. As a key to the
fiant. aesthetic enjoyment of color this might
Brown is protective but not cheerful. prove very profitable.
Purple is dignified. This developmental approach to the sci-
Yellow is cheerful but rarely is seen as ence of color aesthetics which we have been
powerful. recalling and which descended from Bul-
Orange is not seen as closely related to lough through Chandler is in keeping with
anything, but rarely is considered Harry Helson's Adaptation Level Theory
despondent, dignified, or powerful. of human behavior. This theory was ini-
Several facts immediately become apparent tially conceived as an aftermath of H. Hel-
from this sampling of the results of the ex- son and Deane B. Judd's experiments on
periments. First, there does not seem to be the effects of chromatic light on color. The
that degree of unanimity of opinion which theory as related to color is known as the
was to be found in experiments dealing theory of color conversion. It states that
with the synaesthesis of color and the sen-
sations, despite the fact that K. Warner in every viewing situation there is established
in on the numerous ex- an adaptation level such that stimuli above
Schaie, reporting
color and emotional adaptation reflectance are tinged with the hue
periments linking of the illuminant, stimuli below adaptation
tones, concludes that there "is a high degree levels are tinged with the afterimage comple-
of correlation among the results of all mentary to the hue of the illuminant, and stim-
tests." 46 His statement is made possible be- uli at or near adaptation reflectance are either
cause he gives, first, the list showing the achromatic or weakly saturated colors of un-
mood-tone most often correlated with the certain hue.47
color and, second, one never so connected.
On the other hand, it is in the numerous This principle used in color work has be-
come one of those general laws into which
secondary mood-tones enumerated by the several
many subjects that diversity appears most specialized phenomena such as
obvious. For instance, blue is generally con- Color Contrast and the Bezold-Briicke Ef-
ceded to be pleasant, secure, comfortable, fect seem to fit.
tender, and soothing, but there is consider- Harry Helson has become convinced that
able diversity in the opinions about whether the Adaptation Level principle extends be-
it is calm, peaceful, serene, exciting, and yond the orbit of the physiology of color
stimulating. perception to the psychology of all human

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behavior. Accordingly any particular set of principles (whichever way you tend to re-
affections is determined by gard them) are directed toward the stimu-
lus color. Albert H. Munsell, for instance,
(1) the focal stimuli of the situation; (2) all other stated, "The stronger the color... the
stimuli immediately present and forming a back-
smaller must be its area, the greyer the
ground or context for focal stimuli, and (3) all
determinates of behavior having their locus chroma.... These symbols will balance col-
within the organism, such as effects of past ex- ors inversely as the product of their fac-
perience and constitutional and organic factors tors." 51
which interact with the present stimulation and
are treated as residual since they are not ordi-
G. D. Birkhoff52 has been the outstand-
narily under experimental control.... These ing exponent of quantitative evaluation of
three classes of stimuli pool to form a single the ability of interrelated factors to evoke
level (the adaptation level) to which all re- the aesthetic experience. What he did for
sponses are referable.47 the aesthetic experience as derived from
various types of object stimuli, P. Moon
Although this statement may sound like
a contemporary expression of the deduc- and D. E. Spencer related to color.53 Birk-
tions made by previous experimental color- hoff's formula, it will be recalled, was M =
where the Measure of the aesthetic
ists, it is new in two respects. In the first O/C,
experience is the ratio of the Order over
place it obliterates all suggestion of sequen- the
tial causation in favor of what might be Complexity of the stimulus. According
called a flooding operation. "All classes of to Moon, the complexity of a color stimulus
stimuli pool to form a single level." Many is equal to the number of colors plus the
number of color pairs having hue, value,
prominent psychologists48 seem to concur and chroma differences. These investigators
with Helson in his belief that perception is
an immediate function of present stimula- used the standard colors of the Munsell
tion although they do not deny that the color system to obtain their appearance
colors. Order related to area bal-
process of learning involves a change in the graded
learner and thus that perception is changed ance or relative sizes of areas. With weighted
with time. values given to these various components,
The second new element in the Adapta- the investigators were satisfied that Mun-
tion Level Theory is its quantitative aspect. sell's theory of predictable color harmony
This quantitative principle is not new to was vindicated and that certain deductions
color work nor to a study of perceptual ex- could be made relative to the affective
of a color combination on this basis.
perience in general. Experimental aesthet- quality In a later
ics really began on this note with the paper Moon54 replied to criti-
Weber-Fechner law which states that the cism by A. Pope55 of his quantitative evalu-
increase of brightness sensation correlates ation of color harmony and introduced an
with the log of the increase of luminance. adjustment made by multiplying a color
This expresses mathematically the relation area by the distance from the point of in-
terest or center of gravity of the picture.
between physical stimulus and psychologi-
cal response. Quantitative graphs illustrat- H. J. Eysenck56 later changed Birkhoff's
formula to read M = OC. This means that
ing the Helson-Judd phenomenon have the
been prepared by R. M. Evans, W. T. greater the complexity coupled with
ordered similarity, the greater the aesthetic
Hanson, Jr., and W. L. Brewer.49 Is it pos- obtained.
sible to formulate general mathematical pleasure
A. Pope's criticism had been devastating
laws which would serve to predict the total because he
summarily stated that color
quality of a psychological reaction to color? harmony was too complex a subject to
Thoughtful colorists since the days of mathematical treatment. It is this
Chevreul50 have formulated some quanti- permit
complexity that Helson tackled head-on in
tative estimates relative to color in relation a
conceptual formula in which order, com-
to its area and placement to secure pleasant
plexity, and the observer are all quantita-
color affects. Both the qualitative and the tively a part. When the
Adaptation Level
quantitative aspects of these rules, laws, or Theory is expressed in quantitative terms,

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The Aesthetics of Color 449
it must be appropriately modified for par- ory to more complex situations, it will be
ticular types of problems. When this is necessary to find and assign weighted con-
done, Harry Helson feels that it should be stants to the stimuli presented, the back-
applicable to a wide variety of behavioral ground, and the residual factors in the situ-
phenomena, color perceptions included. ation. This, of course, would result in great
The mathematical version of the Adap- complexity, but if it would verify an Adap-
tation Level theory rests on the so-called tation Level for the particular situation, it
57 should be valid in the prediction of an af-
"weighted log mean formula." To illus-
trate this in the specific example of color fective result. The truth of the Adaptation
conversion, the Adaptation Level equals Level constants as found will be the ob-
the weighted (for area, nearness to fixation servance of the Adaptation Level as checked
point, etc.) geometric means of all the re- by them. When the Adaptation Level is
flectances of all the stimuli in the field of found, then the stimuli above this level will
view. This may be expressed, elicit a positive reply and below it a nega-
Ar (adaptation reflectance) = (fractional tive reply and at the Adaptation Level a
constant necessary to predict the achro- neutral reply.
matic point of vision) + As complex as this theory is, it repre-
sents a systematic appraisal of human reac-
R, (log mean reflectance of stimuli other
than background) x R3b (reflectance tions in a lifelike setting. It points to the
of background weighted three times, fact that the experimental approach in aes-
which was found to give a close ap- thetics requires a study of many factors
proximation to the neutral stimulus ac- which are equally as important as simple
tually observed in strongly chromatic perception in any understanding of the
sources of illumination), then dividing whole problem. Personality and interper-
these reflectances by 4. sonal relations such as are presented by
cultures and styles in art must be under-
Summary: log Ar stood if we are to predict how people will
place any art form, and the one with which
= log k/plus log R8 plus 3 log Rb we are dealing, i.e., color relations, in a
beautiful-ugly continuum.
If this formula is to predict chromatic as
well as achromatic perceptions, then the tri- S UM MARY
chromatic coefficients of the stimuli and
background must be taken into account. Experimental work in color aesthetics
This is merely a matter of additional calcu- began seventy odd years ago with concern
lation and involves no new principle. For for people's color preferences and has ar-
individual rather than standard calcula- rived at an attempt to predict those pref-
tions a number of factors relating to the erences in a quantitative way. During this
eye condition of the observer must likewise circuit it has been called to our attention
be considered. that preferences are to a large extent de-
In noting above that a fractional constant pendent on more elemental factors which
was used in computing the achromatic may have a sequential order in experience.
point of vision, it is of interest that some These in turn emerge from so-called resid-
such constant is required in all kinds of uals which result from conditions in the
perceptual estimates, such as estimates of past of an individual or of a people.
weights or of time. Therefore the conclu- In the future the experimental approach
sion was reached that "the organism estab- to color aesthetics must concern itself with
lishes its neutral level in accordance with each of these factors. Because simple and
the weighted log mean formula." 58 The basic synaesthetic reactions to color can be
weighting factor was found to be quite dif- more easily tested than can more complex
ferent for different types of phenomena but preference statements, many more experi-
to remain a constant within its type. ments should be performed at this level.
In order to fit the weighted log mean the- Care should be exercised to see that only

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one type of affective response is being at- William Alexander Hammond, A Bibliography of
tended to in any one experiment. Aesthetics and of the Philosophy of the Fine Arts
from 1900-1932 (New York, 1934). For coverage
Color preferences may profitably be con- since 1935, the following journals are the ones prin-
sidered again in experimentation. It would cipally attended to: Journal of Applied Psychology;
be desirable to have some superorganization Journal of Experimental Psychology; Journal of
define standard conditions in the manner General Psychology; American Journal of Psy-
that the CIE. (Commission Internationale chology; British Journal of Psychology. Other
publications, less systematically covered, are listed
d'Eclairage) has defined one set for the under special references.
psychophysics of color. Then, if one ele- 2 Robert W. Burnham, Randall M. Hanes, and

ment in the total situation were varied C. James Bartleson, Color: a Guide to Basic Facts
and Concepts (New York, 1963). The quotation later
systematically and if a large number of con- in this paragraph is from page 206.
trolled experiments were performed in vari-
8Ralph M. Evans, An Introduction to Color
ous laboratories, some valid conclusions (New York, 1948). Deane B. Judd, Color in Busi-
might emerge. Isolated tests, each differing ness, Science, and Industry (New York, 1952). Optical
from the other in respect to many factors, Society of America, Committee of Colorimetry, The
Science of Color (New York, 1953).
can scarcely produce any but confusing re- P. Guilford, Psychometric Methods (New
sults. York, 1954), ch. 7, 8.
In addition to these experiments of pref- 5Thomas Munro, Toward Science in Aesthetics
erences and synaesthetic reactions, it will (New York, 1956), p. 7.
6W. C. T. Prentice, "The Systematic Psychol-
become increasingly important to learn
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a Science, ed. Sigmund Koch, VII vols. (New York,
This knowledge will result from work 1959), I, 432-455.
which may not be considered to be sci- 7J. Cohn, "Experimentelle Untersuchungen
entific in the accepted interpretation of ueber die Gefuehlsbetonung der Farben helligheiten
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aesthetics, will be scientific in the best (1925), 1-91, 215-281.
sense. They will yield facts which have been 9Edward Bullough, "'The Perceptive Problem'
in the Aesthetic Appreciation of Single Colours,"
seen to operate in the human arena. Cause British Journal of Psychology, II (1906-1908), 406-
and result will be related and substanti- 463. The quotation in footnote 26 is from p. 406.
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It may be desirable in the future to con- Children," British Journal of Psychology, III (1909),
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But it must be recognized that, with the in the Aesthetic Appreciation of Simple Colour
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12W. E. Walton and B. M. Morrison, "A Prelim-
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6J. P. Guilford, "The Affective Value of Color
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The Aesthetics of Color 451
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