Research & Insights

By Brendan O'Connor, March 17, 2008

Where does “Blue” end and “Red” begin?

What would you call these colors?


We showed thousands of random colors like this to people on Mechanical Turk and asked what they would call them. Here’s what they said:


The above picture contains about 1,300 colors and the names for them that Turkers gave. Each is printed in its color and positioned on a color wheel. Just looking around, there sure seem to be different regions for different names. But there are also rich sets of modifiers (“light”, “dark”, “sea”), multiword names (“army green”), and fun obscure ones (“cerulean”). To help look at all this, we also made a color label explorer, so you can search for different terms and see different parts of the space. If the link doesn’t work for you, here are a few examples:

explorer-screenshot-full.gif explorer-screenshot-pink.gif
explorer-screenshot-dark.gif explorer-screenshot-baby.gif

This study is basically the same design as the famous World Color Survey, where anthropologists showed color patches to speakers of many different languages and asked for names, to test the universality of language. Of course, we have mostly native English speakers. However, we can get much more data. (The above picture and links use only a small percentage of all the colors and names we collected.) There’s tons more that can be done. Want to make a better visualizer? Statistical analysis of colors to name terms? Let us know and we should be able to get this data set online.

UPDATE 3/18: I posted the data set.