The Contextual Effect of Colour Preference on the Perception of Emotionally Ambiguous Faces

Didem Alaşhan, Doğa Gülhan & İnci Ayhan

Recent studies showed that colour, as an affective cue, might exert contextual influences on facial emotion percepts, particularly red context facilitating facial anger categorization (Young et al., 2013). Here, we focused on the effect of subjective colour preference and hypothesized that when emotionally ambiguous faces morphed between a positive and a negative emotion are presented on observers’ favourable colour contexts, they would be more likely to be reported as positive than when they would be presented on various other backgrounds. First, we generated an emotionally ambiguous dataset of morphed faces by combining two emotionally opponent faces (happy/sad; happy/disgust). We then found perceived ambiguity points by asking subjects (N = 28) to rate the valence of computationally generated morphed faces with different morphing ratios of positive and negative emotions. In a second experiment, we used these perceptually ambiguous faces in order to test the contextual effect of subjective colour preference. Defined on Munsell colour space, we used 32 different background colours, which were composed of 8 hue categories and their differed saturation and luminance value categories. We found that participants (N = 44) are likely to rate the valence of emotionally ambiguous faces as more positive when they are presented on colour contexts they rate as subjectively more preferred (p = .01). Control experiments showed that it is hue but not brightness or saturation that had the main effect on valence ratings, which indicate a relationship between contextual chromaticity and facial emotion reading.