Color in Reference Production: The Role of Color Similarity and Color Codability

Jette Viethen, Thomas van Vessem, Martijn Goudbeek, Emiel Krahmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


It has often been observed that color is a highly preferred attribute for use in distinguishing descriptions, that is, referring expressions produced with the purpose of identifying an object within a visual scene. However, most of these observations were based on visual displays containing only colors that were maximally different in hue and for which the language of experimentation possessed basic color terms. The experiments described in this paper investigate whether speakers' preference for color is reduced if the color of the target referent is similar to that of the distractors. Because colors that look similar are often also harder to distinguish linguistically, we also examine the impact of the codability of color values. As a third factor, we investigate the salience of available alternative attributes and its impact on the use of color. The results of our experiments show that, while speakers are indeed less likely to use color when the colors in a display are similar, this effect is mostly due to the difficulty in naming similar colors. Color use for color with a basic color term is affected only when the colors of target and distractors are very similar (yet still distinguishable). The salience of our alternative attribute size, manipulated by varying the difference in size between target and distractors, had no impact on the use of color.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1493–1514
Number of pages21
JournalCognitive Science
Issue numberS6
Early online date20 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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