Monday, April 04, 2011

Favorite Colors

A student asked last week why we have favorite colors. Psychologists disagree. Some, like Anya Hurlbert and Yazhu Ling argue that color preference is biological. This explains why there are differences, for example, across sexes. Independent of culture, they contend, girls tend towards pinks and purples, red-based shades, whereas boys tend towards blue-based colors. Others like Ou, Luo, Woodcock, and Wright argue that colors are intertwined with emotions and that favorite colors come from emotional connections. Still others, like Palmer and Schloss, give a more evolutionary take claiming that certain colors are naturally associated with that which is healthful -- blues for sky and clean water, green for edible plants -- and those are frequently cited favorite colors; whereas other colors, like brown are associated with that which is harmful (feces, rotting food) and thereby we have developed a natural disinclination towards them.

The effects of culture seem to be ignored. Surely, the meaning of color is in part an artifact of our experiences -- our college colors, favorite sports team, or political party will all have an effect. Surely, sociology has some effect -- or does it? In cultures where individuality is stressed, do we see a trend towards bolder shades, whereas in cultures where the whole is more important, say more muted hues?

Interestingly, when we went around the room, every person except one said blue or green, the one exception, a young woman, said violet.

TheWife contends that we need to differentiate between favorite color, color I would most like to be surrounded by, and color I would most likely wear (what looks best on me). If we stick to the first, why do we have favorite colors?

Informal poll -- in the comments leave your favorite color. (Mine is green.)