Color Relations Increase the Capacity of Visual Short-Term Memory

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Do color relations such as similarity or harmony influence the ease with which colored patterns can be perceived and held in mind? We tested the influence of a relation supported in research on color harmony—similarity of hue—on the capacity of visual short-term memory (VSTM) for colors in patterns. Palettes of 4 similar-hue colors were rated as more pleasant (harmonious) than dissimilar-color palettes. The palettes were used in a VSTM color task. Patterns of 9 to 15 colored squares were presented, and accuracy of color change detection was measured. Memory performance was higher overall for similar-color palettes than for dissimilar-color palettes (experiments 1 and 3). Is this due to color similarity per se, or due to the harmony between colors in similar palettes? A final experiment provided strong support for the importance of color similarity as opposed to harmony. Overall, the advantages for color similarity, in terms of number of color squares held in memory (memory capacity) were 26% to 45% over dissimilar colors. The results indicate that color relations can have a strong impact on the capacity for perceiving and retaining color patterns.

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Perception, v. 40, issue 6, p. 635-648