People worldwide think of colours the same way

Washington :People from around the world think of colours the same way, regardless of the language used to describe them, a new study has found.

The study examined how a culture of nomadic hunter-gatherers names colours, and shows that they group colours into categories that align with patterns of colour grouping evident in 110 other world languages.

This study population – the Hadza people of Tanzania – has relatively few commonly shared colour words in its language. During the study, the most common response by Hadza participants to a request to name a colour was “Don’t know.”

However, the way the participants grouped the colours they did name – regardless of what name they used – tended to match colour-naming conventions of Somali-speaking immigrants and native English speakers, and of many other cultures around the world.

“Looking at the Hadza data, we see a relatively modern colour vocabulary emerging, but the colour terms are distributed across the entire population,” said Delwin Lindsey, professor of psychology at The Ohio State University Mansfield Campus and lead author of the study.

Scientists know a lot about how the human brain responds to seeing colour – and that universality of perception makes colour naming a good model for studying patterns in language change.

Lindsey said the finding suggests that colour naming is not a matter of nature versus nurture, but a combination of the two.

The result also suggests that both prevailing theories about colour naming apply around the world: Cultures create colour names, but individuals from vastly different societies (Hadza, Somali and American) share the same perceptions of colours in their mind.

“Clearly, there are certain constraints within the mind that guide how colours are going to be grouped together,” said Lindsey.

A previous analysis confirmed that, across cultures, people tend to classify hundreds of different chromatic colours into only eight distinct categories: red, green, yellow-or-orange, blue, purple, brown, pink and grue (green or blue).

In 2009, Lindsey and colleagues showed that four common, distinct groupings of colour categories, which they called “motifs,” occur worldwide: black, white and red; black, white, red and gray; black, white, red and a single cool green or blue category; and black, white, red, green, blue and yellow.

The research was published in the journal Current Biology.