Color, Depth, and Size

104 Uses of Color

Learning Objectives

Be able to discuss at least three uses of color.

Understand the possible cause of true color blindness.

Color is a visual tool that allows us to more easily navigate the outside world. We use it in various ways every day and tend not to think twice about it. Here are a few aspects of color vision to think about:

Object Detection and Recognition

Color allows us to notice and identify objects in a space. Some colors, like red and green, catch our attention more readily, and so are used more often when the desired outcome is your attention. Take a red ball. The ball’s redness makes it easy to detect (Fig.10.1.1). Or the redness of an octagonal sign ignites recognition that it is a stop sign. It would likely not illicit a reaction to stop if one day it was blue, as we have learned to identify stop signs with red.

Scene Segmentation

Color also supports our ability to separate objects in a space. Take the red ball again. We are aware that the red ball is separate from the orange block and the blue pyramid because they are not the same color (Fig.10.1.1). This difference in hue makes it easier for us to recognize the shapes as individuals and analyze them as such. Their color also allows us to separate the shapes from the green background.


10.1.1. Recognition and Segmentation. The colors in this image make it easy to separate the elements within it. The colors also help decipher what each object is based off the descriptions in the paragraph above. (Credit: Jarod Davis. Provided by: University of Minnesota. License: CC-BY 4.0)

Health and Mating

Color is a primary tool used across cultures and animal species to identify the health of an individual. For example, someone with greenish skin may be seen as unwell and potentially in need of medical attention. Additionally, some cultures perceive skin of a particular tones as a symbol of good health, with makeup being used in some ways to show sexual viability.

For non-human animals, the use of color not only indicates health but also acts as a tool to attract suitable mates. The peacock is one of the most common examples, the males carrying large fans of multicolored feathers.


Color also helps us identify things that are pleasing to the eye. Certain color combinations succeed well in this, particularly at high saturations, evoking perceptions of beauty or perfection. Not all color combinations do this, however.

Fig.10.1.2. Desirable color combinations produce aesthetically pleasing imagery. (Credit: Jarod Davis. Provided by: University of Minnesota. License: CC-BY-SA NC 4.0)

Color can help us in many other ways too, such as identifying dangerous plants and animals (a yellow and red spider is way more threatening then a light brown one); food finding (yellow bananas are normal, teal ones probably aren’t eatable); and space illusions (color on a ceiling makes a room feel smaller).

Color deficiencies can have a strong influence on how a person experiences color. Often these deficiencies are confused with “color-blindness.” However, color blindness is a complete lack of color sensation. Instead, the individual sees only in grayscale. This is a rare condition characterized by nonfunctional cones, or even a complete lack of cones altogether (the person only has rods). This can come as a result of traumatic brain injuries, such as oxygen deprivation.


Fig.10.1.3. People with colorblindness do not experience color through vision. They only see in black and white/grayscale (right). (Credit: Mark Harpur. Provided by: Unsplash. Altered by: Jarod Davis. License: CC-BY)
This picture showed examples of people with color blindness (deuteranopia, protanopia, these are two  types of red-green color blindness, blue-yellow blindness: tritanopia, and complete color blindness: monochromatism).
Fig.10.1.4. There are different types of color deficiencies that can occur explaining why some individuals may confuse colors.
Source: Cheryl Olman PSY 3031 Detailed Outline
Provided by: University of Minnesota
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License of original source: CC Attribution 4.0
Adapted by: Jarod Davis



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Introduction to Sensation and Perception Copyright © 2022 by Students of PSY 3031 and Edited by Dr. Cheryl Olman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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