Perceptual and categorical judgements of colour similarity


  • Davidoff Jules
  • Goldstein Julie
  • Tharp Ian
  • Wakui Elley
  • Fagot Joël

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Consideration is given to the tasks that make judgements of colour similarity based on perceptual similarity rather than categorical similarity. Irrespective of whether colour categories are taken to be universal (Berlin & Kay, 1969) or language induced (Davidoff, Davies, & Roberson, 1999), it is widely assumed that colour boundaries, and hence categorical similarity, would be used when categorising colours. However, we argue that categorical similarity is more reliably used in implicit than in explicit categorisation. Thus, in Experiment 1, we found that category boundaries may be overridden in the explicit task of matching-to-sample: There was a similar strong tendency to ignore colour boundaries and to divide the range of coloured stimuli into two equal groups in both Westerners and in a remote population (Himba). In Experiment 2, we showed that a distinctive stimulus (focal colour) in the range affected the equal division in a matching-to-sample task. Experiment 3 tested the stability of a category boundary in an implicit task (visual search) that assessed categorical perception; only for this task was categorisation largely immune to range effects and largely based on categorical similarity. It is concluded that, even after colour categories are acquired, perceptual rather than categorical similarity is commonly used in judgements of colour similarity.

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