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Source: Lester Loschky, 785-532-6882, loschky@k-state.edu
Note to editor: This is the fifth in a series of news releases about the color purple in honor of Kansas State University's founding on Feb. 16, 1863.
News release prepared by: Tyler Sharp, 785-532-2535, media@k-state.edu

Friday, Feb. 11, 2011

The power of purple:
PERCEPTION COLORS OUR VIEW OF PURPLE, PROFESSOR SAYS

MANHATTAN -- Royal purple has a prestigious history at Kansas State University. Since K-State students selected it as the school's official color in 1896, the color has become one of the university's greatest identifiers.

But do people outside the K-State family view purple in the same way? Do we all see the same color when looking at purple? Can the color influence one's mood? The answers are all influenced by how we perceive color, according to a K-State psychology professor.

Lester Loschky, associate professor of psychology and director of K-State's Visual Cognition Laboratory, says different colors have distinct wavelengths. Different responses from the three cone receptor types in the human retina produce a three-part code for each wavelength of light that is received. This code is then sent to the brain, where different sections, such as the thalamus and visual cortex, transform the code into a different three-part code. The final code determines how we see a color.

"Color perception is just as much influenced by your brain and how it is set up to perceive color, as it is by the wavelengths of light that hit our eyes," Loschky said.

Some people perceive colors differently than others because they lack certain cone receptors in their retinas, or because of other factors, such as brain damage, Loschky said. Most people who are colorblind perceive a more limited range of colors because they lack one of the three cone receptor types. Others without any cone receptors in their retinas are truly colorblind. Even people with normal vision can perceive colors somewhat differently -- based on their ratio of the three cone receptor types -- but to a lesser degree, Loschky said.

Different colors also influence our moods in various ways. A study by Dr. David Simms at the University of Glasgow in Scotland found that people rated purple, pink and blue-purple as the most pleasant colors, Loschky said. Light purple was rated one of the most calming colors. In contrast, he said, brown was rated as one of the least pleasant colors, and light gray as one of the saddest.

The association of colors with objects or certain products can be greatly influential, Loschky said. Even the color of foods can influence people's willingness to eat them. "Heinz tried making strangely colored ketchup, including purple, but gave up on it, suggesting that consumers voted with their mouths shut," Loschky said.