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Journal Article

The role of color in object recognition: A review and meta-analysis


Petersson,  Karl Magnus
Cognitive Neuroscience Research Group, Institutenext term of Biotechnology & Bioengineering/CBME, Universidade do Algarve, Faro, Portugal;
Neurobiology of Language Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Unification, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Cognitive Neurophysiology Research Group, Stockholm Brain previous termInstitute,next term Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden;
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, External Organizations;

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Bramão, B., Reis, A., Petersson, K. M., & Faísca, L. (2011). The role of color in object recognition: A review and meta-analysis. Acta Psychologica, 138, 244-253. doi:10.1016/j.actpsy.2011.06.010.

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In this study, we systematically review the scientific literature on the effect of color on object recognition. Thirty-five independent experiments, comprising 1535 participants, were included in a meta-analysis. We found a moderate effect of color on object recognition (d = 0.28). Specific effects of moderator variables were analyzed and we found that color diagnosticity is the factor with the greatest moderator effect on the influence of color in object recognition; studies using color diagnostic objects showed a significant color effect (d = 0.43), whereas a marginal color effect was found in studies that used non-color diagnostic objects (d = 0.18). The present study did not permit the drawing of specific conclusions about the moderator effect of the object recognition task; while the meta-analytic review showed that color information improves object recognition mainly in studies using naming tasks (d = 0.36), the literature review revealed a large body of evidence showing positive effects of color information on object recognition in studies using a large variety of visual recognition tasks. We also found that color is important for the ability to recognize artifacts and natural objects, to recognize objects presented as types (line-drawings) or as tokens (photographs), and to recognize objects that are presented without surface details, such as texture or shadow. Taken together, the results of the meta-analysis strongly support the contention that color plays a role in object recognition. This suggests that the role of color should be taken into account in models of visual object recognition.