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Pictures on Color Memory: The Role of Color on Pictures for Reference Memory Jennifer J. Song, Stephanie A. Selleh , Cindy C. Orman , Jasmine L. Nguyen Department of Psychology, University of Houston-Clear Lake, Houston, TX. Introduction How does color relate to memory?

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Pictures on Color Memory: The Role of Color on Pictures for Reference Memory

Jennifer J. Song, Stephanie A. Selleh, Cindy C. Orman, Jasmine L. Nguyen

Department of Psychology, University of Houston-Clear Lake, Houston, TX

  • Introduction
  • How does color relate to memory?
  • Is color important in recalling information?
  • In daily life we use the color of traffic signals to prevent accidents and for instructional purposes such as flashing lights on vehicles to differentiate between maintenance and emergency vehicles
  • Various studies have suggested color can act as a cue in recognition memory
  • Joseph and Proffitt (1996) found that an individual’s color knowledge is more influential than perceptual information
  • In a study by Tanaka and Presnell (1999), the color diagnosticity hypothesis states that the influence of color information on object recognition is dependent on the degree to which an object is associated with a specific color. Their study examined the color diagnosticy hypothesis in object recognition and found the participants identified the objects high in diagnosticity faster than when presented with an incongruent color.
  • The purpose of this study is to investigate whether the role of color affects recall memory of objects
  • Presentation Examples
  • Objects were displayed in the following categories:
  • Congruently-Colored Incongruently-Colored Line Drawing


  • To control for guessing, an additional analysis was conducted utilizing a weighted mean score.
  • The weighted score for each participant was calculated by dividing the number of correctly answered questions by the total number of possible correct answers (i.e. 46) and multiplying this proportion by each participant’s raw score.
  • The weighted means for each condition are shown in Graph 2.
  • A RM-ANOVA revealed no significant difference among the weighted mean scores of the different conditions, (F (2, 150) = 2.02, p = .137).

Weighted Means

  • Hypothesis
  • We hypothesize that color will enhance object recall for congruently-colored objects as opposed to incongruently-colored objects.
  • We hypothesize that objects presented as line drawings will have the least frequency in cued recall because the world is perceived in color as opposed to black and white.
  • Therefore we hypothesize recall in this order (with congruently-colored as being the most recalled)
    • 1. Congruently-colored
    • 2. Incongruently-colored
    • 3. Line-drawings
  • Results
  • A repeated-measures analysis of variance (RM-ANOVA) was calculated comparing the number of correctly recalled objects presented in three different conditions: (a) congruently-colored, (b) incongruently-colored, and (c) line drawing (black and white) with no color.
  • The three color levels were the independent variable and the number of correctly recalled pictures was the dependent variable.
  • No significant difference among the different conditions was found (F (2, 150) = 2.06, p = .131).
  • The cued recall scores for each condition is shown in Graph 1.
  • Methods
  • A selection of 42 pictures were adapted from Snodgrass and Vanderwart (1980)
  • Pictures were chosen based upon a high single color frequency from the above study and was further confirmed by a pilot study
  • Frequency was primarily assessed based on the article by Lloyd-Jones, and Nakabayashi (2008)
  • Secondly, color frequency of the pictures chosen was also assessed through a pilot study
  • Three different PowerPoint presentations using Microsoft Office 2007 were created using the same pictures, but in three formats: Congruent Color, Incongruent Color, and Black and White Line Drawings
  • Each of the three groups were shown the same pictures, but the type of color was counterbalanced so that each picture was seen by one-third of the participants as either congruently-colored, in congruently-colored or line drawings.
  • The pictures were colored using Adobe Photoshop Elements 6.0
  • Discussion
  • Results of this study showed that there were no significant differences in correctly recalled objects that were either congruently-colored, incongruently-colored, or line drawings.
  • There were also no significant differences in the percentages of correctly recalled objects from each condition.
  • A ceiling effect was found, that is, the majority of the scores were at or near the highest possible score for the recall tests. Several factors could correct for this in future studies:
    • Adding more pictures
    • Reducing the amount of time each picture is presented
    • Using a gray dot screen between each picture to reduce the effects of an after image
    • Use of free recall rather than cued recall
    • The information from this study may promote further studies to have a better understanding between color and recall memory


  • Procedure
  • The experiment was run on two consecutive Saturdays during the Student Research Data Collection Days at the University of Houston Clear Lake Campus
  • Participants used PCs in the UHCL computer lab
  • Each group of participants was read the same instructions, asked to filled out a demographic survey and consent form, and then begin the experiment at the same time
  • After viewing the presentation, the participants completed a yes/no answer
  • sheet asking them if they recalled seeing each of the objects listed
  • Of the 48 objects listed, only 36 were included in the PowerPoint; 12 were false objects that were not presented
  • Primacy and recency was controlled for by adding 3 objects both at the beginning and end of each presentation that were not included on the answer sheet


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Bynum, C., Epps, H. H., & Kaya, N. (2006). Color memory of university students: Influence of color experience and color characteristic. College Student Journal, 40, 824-831.

Hanna, A., & Remington, R. (1996). The representation of color and form in long-term memory. Memory & Cognition, 24, 322-330.

Jesky, R. R., & Berry, L. H. (1991). The effects of pictorial complexity and cognitive style on visual recall memory. Bloomington, IN: Association for Educational Communications and Technology. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED334987)

Joseph, J. E., & Proffitt, D. R. (1996). Semantic versus perceptual influences of color in object recognition. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 22, 407-429.

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Snodgrass, J. G., & Vanderwart, M. (1980). A standardized set of 260 pictures: Norms for name agreement, image agreement, familiarity, and visual complexity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 6, 174-215.

Tanaka, J. W., & Presnell, L. M. (1999). Color diagnosticity in object recognition. Perception & Psychophysics, 61, 1140-1153.

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