Perception Journal Club

Facial Expressions, Colours and Basic Emotions

We investigated whether the pairing of facial expressions of emotion with colours is consistent among different cultures, in particular between Australian and European people. Two groups, one consisting mainly of younger and the other of older people, participated in two experiments. For each of six faces, which expressed the basic emotions anger, surprise, disgust, sadness, happiness and fear, single colours and combinations of three colours were selected for the best visual ‘fit’ with the faces. The performance by the two groups was essentially identical. The different emotions appear well characterised by the paired colours. Two approaches were used for analysing the results of the experiments: one using techniques from the discipline of psychology, the other from the discipline of design. The six emotions were compared with regard to the position of each colour in the CIELAB colour space, the warm/cold characteristics, and the contrast between the three colours of the triplets. The process whereby facial expressions were ‘translated’ into colours and colours into faces could also be demonstrated. From an examination of the successes and failures in communication it is possible to propose single colours and colour combinations for each face that could be described as ‘correct’ and which can serve as a guide for designers.