That Smells Blue! Cultural Differences Between Colour-Odour Associations
Authors:Jason Chan, Michael Dodson, Christine Leong, Jai Levin, Carmel Levitan, Kirsten McKenzie, Jiana Ren, Andrew Woods
Mentor:Carmel Levitan, Assistant Professor of Cognitive Science, Occidental College
Numerous studies have documented the significant role that colour plays in the identification of odours (Desor 1974; DuBose 1980; Christensen 1983; Zellner, Bartoli et al. 1991; Distel 2001; Morrot 2001). Nevertheless, colour’s relation to odours may vary across cultures as a result of different associations. Our study sought to investigate whether universal colour-odour associations exist irrespective of experience. We predicted that different cultural experiences lead to different associations for colour-odour pairs. In order to examine the effect of culture on colour-odours affiliations, participants (N = 120) were provided with 14 odours and asked to select the three most and three least consistent colours for each individual odour from a chart of 36 randomly ordered colours. Data collection was completed using Xperiment software (www.xperiment.mobi) presented on either an iPod Touch™ or HTC Desire Z Android™ screen. Odours used for our studies were similar to those used in food products and consumer goods (e.g. rice, floral, burnt, candy, hazelnut, plastic, soap). Ultimately, results were compared across various participant groups in four geographical regions: Germany, Malaysia, the Netherlands, and the United States of America. Preliminary findings indicate that significant differences exist between colour-odour associations for all sample populations listed, suggesting that colour-odour associations are not universal and are in fact mediated by cultural experience.