How do people from different cultures associate colours with certain words?
A comparative study between Swedish and Nepalese subjects’ colour associations to 24 words.
More and more people live in cities. Urban life provides us with a huge amount of information. Much of the information is visual and based on, or including colours. Urban people receive visual information almost all the time and have to quickly sort and evaluate the messages and judge if it is of importance to them. The perception of colour is immediate and therefore colours constitute important signals to us. But do colours mean the same thing to people living in Stockholm as they do to people in Kathmandu?
This paper describes a study into how a series of words can be associated with colours in two different cultures. The findings should be of interest for professionals and academics working in the remit of visual communication in different cultures. The aim of this research is to investigate if there are distinctive patterns - similarities and differences - in how subjects from two different cultures connect words with colours.
The two countries represented in this study are located in different parts of the world (Europe and Asia), with different cultures and religious traditions. From each country there are two groups of subjects, one group is a general mix of people who are not working with colours in their professional life. Another group consists of students of art and design from the Linnaeus University and Kathmandu University. It will be possible to compare the answers from these two groups separately. The subjects speak and understand English well. They do not have any known colour defects and they are born and live in Sweden or Nepal. In the study, design students and laypersons (50 from Sweden and 50 from Nepal) were given 24 words in English. They were asked to match each word to a colour from a chart with 27 selected colours from the NCS system. The results will be presented with statistics and diagrams showing the chosen colours. The results will be analysed in terms of how coherent the answers are and potential patterns that emerge specific to the countries, and their cultural contexts.
The words that are investigated are of different characters; some of them maybe have a more obvious connection to colours as the words ‘warm’ and ‘cold’. Others are more of a emotional character such as ‘sorrow’ and ‘happiness’ while others might be more subjective like the colours for the words ‘me’ and ‘others’. The 24 words tested in this study are warm, cold, sorrow, happiness, calm, upset, near, distant, young, old, feminine, masculine, fast, slow, strong, weak, false, true, cheap, expensive, friendly, dangerous, me and others.
From the study it will also be possible to see if there are differences in the chosen colours related to the subjects’ sex, age, experience of colour and religion, The Nepalese subjects are most Hindu and Buddhists while the Swedish subjects are mostly Christians, although it is not known to what extent the subjects are actually religious practioners. The reason for doing this pilot study in Sweden and Nepal is that these two countries obviously differ in term of culture and religion
This is a pilot study to explore the method and it is conducted in two different countries. With the experience of this study a lager study will be conducted in six more countries with various cultures and religious background in different parts of the world during 2016 and 2017.