We are The Sussex Colour Group & Baby Lab, a Research Lab based at the University of Sussex in the UK. We investigate: (i) how colour perception develops from infancy and into adulthood (ii) the perceptual processes that enable humans to see, think and talk about colour, and (iii) the way in which colour is represented and constructed by the brain. Our research is currently generously supported by funding from the European Research Council and from a number of industrial partnerships and consultancies.
The Development of Colour Perception
We investigate how infants and children see, think and learn about colour, and the process by which this colour perception develops. This gives us insight into children’s perceptual and cognitive development, and into infants' response to the world around them. Understanding how colour perception develops also gives insight into how it works in its mature form.
We have shown that infants have a remarkably rich visual experience of colour, can perceive its dimensions, and can categorise it using the sensory mechanisms of colour vision. Our studies reveal that infants have visual preferences for some colours over others, which strikingly resemble adults’ colour preferences. We also find that infants’ sensitivity to colour relates to the statistical regularities of colour in the natural environment, and that young children are able to keep colour perceptually constant despite changes in illumination. This perceptual constancy also relates to how well children can name colours. Working with older children, we have found that the presence of red has a slight effect on children’s performance on cognitive tasks in some contexts. We have also characterised how colour is perceived in children with neurodevelopmental conditions such as Autism.
We have applied our findings on the development of colour perception to develop a gamified psychophysical iPad app, called ColourSpot, which diagnoses colour vision deficiency (colour blindness) in children as young as 4. We also work with companies who design products for infants and young children (e.g., toys, books, TV), weaving the methods and findings of our science into their design process.
Perceptual Mechanisms: Colour Categorisation, Preference, Constancy and Chromatic Scene Statistics
We want to understand what is ‘under the hood’ of human colour perception – to understand what perceptual processes enable us to perceive, think, like and talk about colour, and how those perceptual processes work. We also ask questions about the role of ‘innate’ sensory processes, and the influence of environment, culture and experience. This enables us to contribute to broader debate in the cognitive sciences on topics such as the efficient coding of our visual system, the relativity of perception, and the principles of aesthetics.
On the topic of colour categorisation, we have used ERPs to find a neural marker for the unique hues, and to clarify the time course of the effect of colour terms on perceptual and post-perceptual processes. We have provided support for the theory that colour preference relates to the colour of objects, and with cross-cultural work have also refuted the theory that colour preferences are universal. Our developmental work on colour constancy has shown that this perceptual process is still developing at 2-4 years old.
Recent work is investigating how colour vision and perception calibrates and adapts to the statistical regularities of colour in natural scenes and illumination (project COLOURMIND, funded by the ERC). We are conducting developmental work, cross-cultural fieldwork, neuroimaging and using virtual reality to understand this.
Colour and the Brain
Colour selective regions of the visual cortex have been clearly identified using fMRI, yet there are many questions about how these regions encode colour and what regions are implicated in the perceptual representation of colour. The role of other regions of the brain in perceptual colour phenomenon is also unclear. So far, we have published two fMRI studies of colour perception, in collaboration with neuroimaging expert Prof Chris Bird. These identify that the middle frontal gyrus encodes colour categorically whilst the visual cortex codes the perceptual similarity of colour, and that the posterior midline cortex (precuneus, posterior cingulate and cuneus) are modulated by colour preference.
In our current neuroimaging work, we are investigating the neural basis of statistical regularities of objects and natural environments using fMRI. We (Ian Pennock, Jenny Bosten, Anna Franklin & Chris Racey) are also investigating the brain regions involved in the perceptual representation of colour, by analysing the 7T fMRI Natural Scenes Dataset provided by Profs Kendrick Kay and Thomas Naselaris and their teams. This data set enables us to investigate colour and the brain with unprecedented high resolution, and using stimuli where colour is embodied in natural scenes as it is in everyday life.
Contact us for more information about our research.