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Are shapes and colors connected?

Posted January 30, 2015

Famous Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky thought that color and shape of an object is related to each other. Unfortunately, many previous studies using the Implicit Association Test were not able to detect empirical evidence which would support this idea. However, it receives support from the new study conducted at the University of Tokyo.

Picture: Color Study, Squares with Concentric Circles, Painting by Vassily Kandinsky, 1913. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Picture: Color Study, Squares with Concentric Circles, Painting by Vassily Kandinsky, 1913. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

“These results provide the first empirical evidence that color-shape associations can be measured by indirect behavioral methods, and in particular, Japanese people’ s color-shape associations (circle-red, square-blue, triangle-yellow ) can be observed by both direct and indirect experimental methods,” the researchers claim.

According to Kandinsky certain colors are linked to specific shapes. For instance, a circle is paired with blue, a square with red and a triangle with yellow color. He argued that this matching should be driven by the angles of objects. Despite its fame, empirical support for this thesis is very weak. If studies find empirical support for color-shape connection, they fail to confirm Kandinsky’s proposal.

”Taken together, studies have shown little support for Kandinsky’s color-shape associations using either direct matching or indirect behavioral experimental methods. One possible reason might be that Kandinsky’s correspondence theory is not universal or simply incorrect,” authors of the study published on Plos One state. Some of the studies imply that nonrandom relationship between colors and shapes exist, because both are linked by shared semantic information.

All the previous support for the existence of color-shape association was found in direct matching studies, which allow participants to think abou their choices. However, no link was discovered in the implicit-association test, which measures strength of a person’s automatic responses. However, previous attempts were testing pairs of colors and forms offered by Kandinksy.

Na Chen and his colleagues at the University of Tokyo used a different set of color-shape combinations, which was discovered in the previous study of Japanese students. “In Experiment 2, participants responded more rapidly when circle-red, square-blue, and triangle-yellow were mapped onto the same response key than when they were paired with different response keys.

These results suggest robust effects for color-shape associations, in line with those observed in the previous Japanese sample,” the scientists say. Although this finding does not support Kandinsky’s theory, it provides the first evidence that these associations can be triggered not only by slow introspective thinking.

Article: Chen N, Tanaka K, Watanabe K (2015) Color-Shape Associations Revealed with Implicit Association Tests. PLoS ONE 10(1): e0116954. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0116954, source link.

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