Color Spectrum

Universal patterns for color identification and consensus

In their findings, Vittorio Loreto and Animesh Mukherjee in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences detailed a study on how culture and people develop a hierarchy for identifying and naming colors. This is a intriguing study into how humans and diffrent cultures see the world differently. It is not so much in how different our understandings are but there is a more detailed picture of when we start to diverge and begin to construct our own cultural significance to colors.

One mystery scientists have uncovered is that color names always seem to appear in a specific order of importance across cultures—black, white, red, green, yellow and blue.

“For example, if a population has a name for red, it also has a name for black and for white; or, if it has a name for green, it also has a name for red,” said researcher Francesca Tria, a physicist at the ISI Foundation in Turin, Italy. But if a population has a name for black and white, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have a name for red. [How Colors Got Their Symbolic Meanings]


The findings indicate that the order and time in which humans come to identity and reach consensus around colors is approximately the same. Which has interesting implications to how we understand each other.  It seems that color is not as subjective as one might think. Sure, cultures and groups can attach connotations and understandings in opposing ways but we use the same limitation of vision to create universal patterns.

“Our approach suggests a possible route to the emergence of hierarchical color categories,” Tria told LiveScience. “Humans tend to react most saliently to certain parts of the spectrum, often selecting exemplars for them, and finally comes the process of linguistic color naming, which adheres to universal patterns resulting in a neat hierarchy.”

Roughly, we identity colors in the same order but we do not attach the same meanings. This opens an absolutely fascinating way to paint a picture of cultural evolution. If our mind uses the limits of our spectrum to consistently construct a hierarchy of color in universal patterns this could tell us even more about how the mind interprets patterns and organizes them. Similar to gestalt, understanding how the mind groups and constructs patterns is essential to better communication.

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