Which color do you like more — blue or red? The majority of people choose blue. However, recent research from the psychology department suggests that if you are in the same camp as most of the other people reading this article, you probably like blue even better than you did a few years ago because you attend UC Berkeley instead of that other university across the bay. Graduate student Karen Schloss and Professor Stephen Palmer have proposed an Ecological Valence Theory, which states that a person’s color preference is based on how much he or she likes objects associated with that color. “When we were describing the data that we got,” explained Professor Palmer, “we naturally started telling a little just-so story. People like blue because there are good blue things: clear blue skies, clean water, etc. Whereas dark yellow is rotting food, human waste—‘yuck’ stuff.” To test this theory, the team had a large number of people list objects associated with a given color, and rank how positively they felt about the objects and how well they were described by the color.
The researchers then compared these object preference data with the subjects’ previous color preference data. “The amazing thing was it just worked,” said Schloss. The correlations between the theoretical ideas and the actual preference data were outstanding. So, positive feelings toward your alma mater may help explain why you just chose to paint your walls blue or buy those gold shoes. The lab is currently expanding their study by collecting data from institutions across the globe to see how well their theory can explain cross-cultural differences in color preference.