What Color is that Smell? Cross-Cultural Color-Odor Associations

Carmel LevitanOccidental College
Jiana RenWageningen University
Andy WoodsXperiment
Sanne BoesveldtWageningen University
Jason ChanGoethe University
Kirsten McKenzieUniversity of Nottingham Malaysia Campus
Michael DodsonOccidental College
Jai LevinOccidental College
Xiang Ru LeongUniversity of Nottingham Malaysia Campus
Jasper van den BoschUniversity of Washington

Abstract

culture, there are similarities in color-odor associations. These associations are forms of crossmodal correspondences. Recently, there has been discussion about the extent to which these correspondences arise for structural reasons (e.g., an inherent mapping between color and odor), statistical reasons (e.g., covariance in experience), and/or semantically-mediated reasons (e.g., stemming from language). The present study probed this question by testing color-odor correspondences in 6 different cultural groups (Dutch, Dutch residing-Chinese, German, Malay, Malaysian-Chinese, and US residents), using the same set of 14 odors and asking participants to make congruent and incongruent color choices for each odor. We found consistent patterns in color choices for each odor within each culture, and variation in the patterns of color-odor associations across cultures. Thus culture plays a role in color-odor crossmodal associations, which likely arise, at least in part, through experience.

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