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Complex color stimuli and emotional responses Rasmussen, Per Gorm

Abstract

The primary purpose of the present study was to examine the larger issue of color and emotional responses and, within that framework, to explore ways of specifying complex color displays. Several steps were involved in this investigation. First, a total of 80 color displays representing five levels of hue, two levels of value, two levels of chroma and four levels of motif were constructed. These were unique in that they accurately and systematically sampled the Munsell color space, and in the fact that they contained large numbers of color elements which were colorimetrically specifiable and which at the same time were arranged in such a way that they resembled color pictures. They thus bridged the gap between stimuli used in single color experiments which could be colorimetrically specified, and experiments with unspecifiable color pictures. Secondly, an emotional response measure employing the three dimensions of pleasure, arousal and dominance, was used to assess the effects of the display dimensions of hue, value, chroma and motif and the subject variable of sex. In addition, a verbal measure of information rate was used to assess the extent to which the display motifs influenced subjects' non-affective (i.e., cognitive responses), and subjects' ability to recognize the display motifs was assessed as well. Thirdly, the problem of stimulus specification was approached through the application of a three-step procedure involving increasing stimulus specificity. These approaches dealt with the specification in terms of (1) the individual color elements making up a display, (2) the quantity of these individual color components, and (3) the distribution or location of these elements across the display surface. The latter specification scheme, which was termed "distribution specification", made use of 24 procedures—some based on accepted artistic views and others of a more abstract nature—for calculating the relationship between the color elements in the displays. The measures which these procedures resulted in were subseqently assessed against subjects' responses on the dimensions of pleasure, arousal, dominance and information rate. Initially, a pilot study with 20 subjects and 16 of the 80 displays was conducted to test the general performance of the response measures and to test whether the displays could be presented in the form of projected slides. The results of this study showed that the general experimental procedure was acceptable but that the projection technique distorted the colors of the displays excessively. Based on the conclusions of the pilot study, a larger study using 82 subjects and the displays as originally constructed was conducted. The results were surprising to the extent that complex color stimuli did not differevery substantially from those elicited by single color stimuli: the color dimension of value influenced the emotional responses to the greatest extent, chroma to a somewhat lesser extent, and hue very little. The motif of the displays, on the other hand, was found to make a substantial difference to the way subjects felt about a display, and the way they assessed it in terms of information rate. Also, it was found that the verbal measure of information rate was a good predictor of how well subjects would recognize a motif. The results of the analysis of stimulus specification in terms of the 24 distribution measures was particularly interesting and gratifying in that several of the measures emerged as strong predictors of responses to the emotional measures and information rate. In particular, the artistically common-sense notions of top-bottom and left-right pictorial balance were prominent, as was the specially constructed measure of contrasts within small sampling areas of the displays. It was concluded, first, that the study had reinforced the findings of many past studies dealing with color and affect, and that it had thrown some new light on some of the controversial and contradictory findings of the past. Secondly, the study had moved the investigation of emotional responses to color pictures and works of art a substantial step closer to realization. Finally, the study had suggested new and promising avenues to follow in the further investigation of colorimetric specification of complex color stimuli.

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