Colour context effects on speeded valence categorization of facial expressions

Thaatsha Sivananthan*, Peter de Lissa, Kim M. Curby

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


Colour often has emotional connotations, with red associated with negativity and green with positivity. Some suggest that these associations automatically influence the categorization of affective stimuli presented in their context. If so, such effects should occur rapidly, remaining robust under temporal constraints. Here we examined whether these associations influence affective judgments about emotionally ambiguous (neutral or surprised) facial expressions when stimulus presentation duration (Experiment 1) or decision time (Experiment 2) is constrained. Faces appearing on red backgrounds were categorized as negative more than those on green or grey backgrounds, regardless of presentation duration or decision time. Faces on green backgrounds were also categorized as positive more than those on grey backgrounds when decision time was constrained. When incongruent with the expressed emotion, background colour also interfered with affective judgments about emotionally unambiguous faces (Experiment 3). Our findings suggest colour associations rapidly impact valence judgments and potentially operate outside participants’ control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)348-365
Number of pages18
JournalVisual Cognition
Issue number6
Early online date22 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2021


  • emotion
  • colour
  • emotional faces
  • colour-emotion associations
  • contextual interference


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