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Journal Article

Bliss is blue and bleak is grey: Abstract word-colour associations influence objective performance even when not task relevant


Kidd,  Evan
Language Development Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
The Australian National University;
ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language;
Learning through Processing, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Goodhew, S. C., & Kidd, E. (2020). Bliss is blue and bleak is grey: Abstract word-colour associations influence objective performance even when not task relevant. Acta Psychologica, 206: 103067. doi:10.1016/j.actpsy.2020.103067.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0006-0FA3-2
Humans associate abstract words with physical stimulus dimensions, such as linking upward locations with positive concepts (e.g., happy = up). These associations manifest both via subjective reports of associations and on objective performance metrics. Humans also report subjective associations between colours and abstract words (e.g., joy is linked to yellow). Here we tested whether such associations manifest on objective task performance, even when not task-relevant. Across three experiments, participants were presented with abstract words in physical colours that were either congruent with previously-reported subjective word-colour associations (e.g., victory in red and unhappy in blue), or were incongruent (e.g., victory in blue and unhappy in red). In Experiment 1, participants' task was to identify the valence of words. This congruency manipulation systematically affected objective task performance. In Experiment 2, participants completed two blocks, a valence-identification and a colour-identification task block. Both tasks produced congruency effects on performance, however, the results of the colour identification block could have reflected learning effects (i.e., associating the more common congruent colour with the word). This issue was rectified in Experiment 3, whereby participants completed the same two tasks as Experiment 2, but now matched congruent and incongruent pairs were used for both tasks. Again, both tasks produced reliable congruency effects. Item analyses in each experiment revealed that these effects demonstrated a degree of item specificity. Overall, there was clear evidence that at least some abstract word-colour pairings can systematically affect behaviour.