What’s a Colorblind Person’s Favorite Color? Yellow

By Elizabeth Preston | July 15, 2015 11:22 am

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As much as you think your tastes are unique, psychologists say they can guess your favorite color. It’s likely to be blue. And it’s especially unlikely to be yellow—unless you’re colorblind. Men with red-green colorblindness have preferences that are essentially opposite from everyone else’s. The finding could help scientists understand why humans like what they like, and how colorblind people see the world differently.

Some researchers have claimed that the human love of blue is universal. Others have turned up different color preferences between cultures. Either way, studies in the United States and the United Kingdom have found that people with normal color vision tend to most enjoy the color blue, and to least like yellowish-greenish hues.

Universidad Complutense de Madrid graduate student Leticia Álvaro and her coauthors wanted to see how these preferences differ in colorblind people, or “dichromats.” Humans with normal color vision are called “trichromats” because they have three functioning types of cone cells in their retinas. Each type is most sensitive to certain light wavelengths—red, green, or blue, approximately. About 2 percent of men are born with red-green colorblindness because they have just two functioning cone cell types. Some are lacking the red type, and others the green. Either way, they have trouble telling reds and greens apart. Dichromats can also be people who lack blue cone cells, or women, but these conditions are less common.

Álvaro’s subjects were 32 trichromats (a mix of men and women) and 32 dichromatic men (a mix of the green-lacking and red-lacking subtypes). Subjects saw patches of color appear on a screen and rated how much they liked each one, on a 10-point scale from nada to mucho. They rated 24 colors in all, with repeats to make sure their preferences were consistent.

color swatches

The trichromats responded just as subjects in other studies had. Their ratings were lowest for yellow-green colors, and highest for blue. But colorblind subjects really liked yellow. They rated bold yellow hues as highly as, or higher than, blue ones.

There are doubtless all kinds of associations and cultural factors that influence how much we like certain colors. But there may also be physical factors. Álvaro found evidence to support a theory that “cone contrast,” or how much difference our cone cells perceive between a color and its background, is important. Earlier studies had suggested that cone contrast affects the favorite colors of trichromats, and Álvaro says her findings show the same thing is true in colorblind people.

In another experiment, she asked subjects to quickly name the colors they saw. About a third of the time, dichromats named colors differently than subjects with normal color vision did. And among the dichromats, those lacking red cone cells made more errors. Álvaro also saw that people had the easiest time naming the colors they liked best.

Álvaro says her findings confirm that certain men with red-green colorblindness—those lacking their red cones—experience a stronger impact on their color vision. And, she says, this is the first time a study has shown that the impact extends into their color preferences. These subjects had the most extreme fondness for yellow and dislike of blue, revealing tastes that were exactly opposite of people with normal color vision.

And if you’re not colorblind but your favorite color is chartreuse, you really might be unique.


Image: top by Courtney Rhodes (via Flickr); bottom, Álvaro et al.

Álvaro, L., Moreira, H., Lillo, J., & Franklin, A. (2015). Color preference in red–green dichromats Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1502104112

MORE ABOUT: Physics, Psychology, Senses
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  • Rochelle Strowder

    I found this blog very interesting, because I am not colorblind, but my favorite color is yellow. On the opposite end my sister’s favorite color is blue. I have always liked the color yellow not exactly sure why, but I did. I guess it’s because it is a bright color. The study that was performed is very interesting, because how can a colorblind person have a favorite color when they can’t even see the color itself. I know several males who are colorblind, one of them being my uncle and he would be a good candidate for this testing. Of course if an individual is colorblind when chosing the colors they would chose the ones they personally favor, over what they cannot see.

  • JimthePE

    More people are color weak than fully colorblind. They have diminished or shifted sensitivity to the affected color. I wonder how these people would respond to this test.

  • http://www.smokershistory.com/ CarolAST

    I’ve hated that silly “favorite color” stuff ever since it was first foisted on me as a child. Every color has its place. Why exactly am I supposed to play favorites about this? I think they’re trying to program us to be narcissists.

    • pauline_roberge
    • guillermina.ryals
  • S. Hutchings

    When a friend of mine was in first grade, he was asked what was his favourite colour. He said ‘black’. The teacher was aghast and sent a note home to his parents to the effect that their son was weird. His rationale: black has all of the colours in it, just as white light has all of the colours in it. Certain people thought he was odd because he liked old things. The kid was/is a genius. He is now a middle-aged, successful business owner …. of an antique shop. :)

    • ejhaskins

      Funny thing — I like black as a child. I still do. I see it as a BOLD colour :-)

  • ejhaskins

    My husband in secondary red/green blind. He INSISTS that he CAN see all colours but muddles up red and black, and pink with snot-green :-( He once bought a friend a potted begonia with GREEN flowers because, he said, he chose the one with the brightest colours!
    However his *favourite* colour IS blue. He sees blue clearly and so I tend to wear blue clothes most of the time. Not that I am complaining :-)
    He does have trouble matching yellow paints — because yellows can vary t orangey (with red in them) to lemon (with greed in them).

  • Abiatha Swelter

    I’m color-blind and I like blue just fine. I wouldn’t have said yellow. But yellow is okay. Green I have trouble with. Can’t really see it–unripe bananas are a sort of beigey-yellow, grass is orange, and traffic lights are white. I can make out red, but green is mostly theoretical.

  • Monique Lafreniere

    I have amber eye color and so does my sixteen yr old son, both of our favorite colors are yellow and green, and aqua. Blue is not on our list of favorites.. We are both NOT color blind.

  • geekster

    Double Color blind.. can’t tell red from green, green from browns and blue’s/purples and all kinds of colors are just hard to tell what the hell they are.. I see pink as gray and Blue is my fav followed by Black. Yellow is probably my least fav although for some things its appropriate.

    Bizarre enough cause I am a web developer who went to school for electronics.. Both totally color oriented jobs, did electronics for over a decade… I find ways around everything, understand a little bit about color theory but hue’s I just don’t get. Not a good idea to have me buy clothes by myself either but I tend to stick to blacks greys and whites…

  • Breanna

    This is interesting. It’s always interesting to imagine how other people perceive colors. I wonder if there is something more to this study. It could be a case of how well a color blind person can see a color, determining whether or not they like it, or if it is merely a preference. The brain may associate different things to color for a color blind person than for people who are not color blind. It is interesting how the biology of our eyes can change how we perceive color, and may lead to different favorite colors.

  • debbywitt

    My father is colorblind, as are two of my sons and one of my grandkids. None of them particularly like yellow. I realize that this is a very small sample, but so is the study you’re citing.

  • Bothergirl

    I am a Chartruse lover. It is my absolute favorite color. I am not color blind. Second favorite is Green. Not a big fan of blue unless it is the sky.

  • Jaleigh Bugher

    As you mentioned, humans have three different types of cones, whereas certain animals have four, even five, types of cones. With that being said, all humans are, to a certain extent, colorblind. The X chromosome is what determines if someone will be red-green color blind, meaning that about eight times more men are affected by this than women. In a study done with monkeys, those of whom only have two types of cones–and, therefore, red-green colorblindness–it was determined that by genetically adding a third type of cone allowed the monkeys to more correctly identify the red and green colors. This data comes to suggest that the brain will use and adapt to any new information that it is given.

  • Samuel Wallace

    It’s really sad that this is the most “informative” article I can find on all of Google about what colorblind folks actually LIKE to look at. Seriously; every article is “what is it like” “what are the effects” but almost no one shows enough interest to actually ask what, given their limited palette of vision, they deem the most visually interesting.

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Inkfish

Like the wily and many-armed cephalopod, Inkfish reaches into the far corners of science news and brings you back surprises (and the occasional sea creature). The ink is virtual but the research is real.

About Elizabeth Preston

Elizabeth Preston is a science writer whose articles have appeared in publications including Slate, Nautilus, and National Geographic. She's also the former editor of the children's science magazine Muse, where she still writes in the voice of a know-it-all bovine. She lives in Massachusetts. Read more and see her other writing here.

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