Cross-species differences in color categorization


  • Fagot Joël
  • Goldstein Julie
  • Davidoff Jules
  • Pickering Alan

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Berlin and Kay (1969) found systematic restrictions in the color terms of the world's languages and were inclined to look to the primate visual system for their origin. Because the visual system does not provide adequate neurophysiological discontinuities to supply natural color category boundaries, and because recent evidence points to a linguistic origin (Davidoff, Davies, & Roberson, 1999), a new approach was used to investigate the controversial issue of the origin of color categories. Baboons and humans were given the same task of matching-to-sample colors that crossed the blue/green boundary. The data and consequent modeling were remarkably clear-cut All human subjects matched our generalization probe stimuli as if to a sharp boundary close to the midpoint between their training items. Despite good color discrimination, none of the baboons showed any inclination to match to a single boundary but rather responded with two boundaries close to the training stimuli. The data give no support to the claim that color categories are explicitly instantiated in the primate color vision system.

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