An ecological framework for temporal and individual differences in color preferences

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There are well-known and extensive differences in color preferences between individuals, but there are also within-individual differences from one time to another. Despite the seeming independence between these individual and temporal effects, we propose that they have the same underlying cause: people’s ecological experiences with color-associated objects and events. Our approach is motivated by the Ecological Valence Theory (EVT; Palmer & Schloss, 2010) which states that preference for a given color is determined by the combined valence (liking/disliking) of all objects and events associated with that color. We define three ecologically-based hypotheses for explaining temporal and individual differences in color preferences concerning: (1) differences in object valences, (2) differences in color-object associations, and (3) differences in object activations in the mind when preferences are measured. We review prior studies that support these hypotheses and raise open research questions about untested predictions. We also extend the computational framework of the EVT by defining a single weighted average equation that captures both individual and temporal differences in color preferences. Finally, we consider other factors that potentially contribute to color preferences, including abstract symbolic associations, color in design, and psychophysical and/or physiological factors.

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