Implicit associations between individual properties of color and sound

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Abstract

We report a series of 22 experiments in which the implicit associations test (IAT) was used to investigate cross-modal correspondences between visual (luminance, hue [R-G, B-Y], saturation) and acoustic (loudness, pitch, formants [F1, F2], spectral centroid, trill) dimensions. Colors were sampled from the perceptually accurate CIE-Lab space, and the complex, vowel-like sounds were created with a formant synthesizer capable of separately manipulating individual acoustic properties. In line with previous reports, the loudness and pitch of acoustic stimuli were associated with both luminance and saturation of the presented colors. However, pitch was associated specifically with color lightness, whereas loudness mapped onto greater visual saliency. Manipulating the spectrum of sounds without modifying their pitch showed that an upward shift of spectral energy was associated with the same visual features (higher luminance and saturation) as higher pitch. In contrast, changing formant frequencies of synthetic vowels while minimizing the accompanying shifts in spectral centroid failed to reveal cross-modal correspondences with color. This may indicate that the commonly reported associations between vowels and colors are mediated by differences in the overall balance of low- and high-frequency energy in the spectrum rather than by vowel identity as such. Surprisingly, the hue of colors with the same luminance and saturation was not associated with any of the tested acoustic features, except for a weak preference to match higher pitch with blue (vs. yellow). We discuss these findings in the context of previous research and consider their implications for sound symbolism in world languages.

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  • General Language Studies and Linguistics
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)764-777
JournalAttention, Perception, & Psychophysics
Volume81
Issue number3
Early online date2018 Dec 13
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes