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Ecological valence and human color preference

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Abstract

Aesthetic response to color is an important aspect of human experience, but little is known about why people like some colors more than others. Previous research suggested explanations based on sensory physiology and color-emotions. In this chapter we propose an ecological valence theory based on the hypothesis that color preferences are caused by people’s average affective responses to color-associated objects. That is, people like colors that are strongly associated with objects they like (e.g. blues with clear skies and clean water) and dislike colors strongly associated with objects they dislike (e.g. browns with feces and rotten fruit). We report data that strongly support this claim: the ecological valence theory not only predicts average color preferences better than three alternative theories containing more free parameters, but it provides a plausible explanation of why color preferences exist and how they arise.

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