Cognitive Daily

A while back we did a little non-scientific study on whether people experience different colors based on their emotions, and indeed found a very small effect.

For this week’s study, we thought we’d see if we could extend those results to music. All we’re asking you to do is listen to eight short audio clips, then say what color you associate the clips with.

Click here to participate

As usual, the study is short, with just 8 questions. The 8 clips range from 10 seconds to 70 seconds long. Most are shorter than one minute, so the whole thing should take less than 10 minutes to complete. You have until Thursday, February 8 to participate. There is no limit on the number of respondents.

Don’t forget to come back next Friday to see the results!


  1. #1 Rod S
    February 1, 2008

    I put down yellow for all but one of them.

    In fact absolutely no color came to mind on any song.

    I would think only a small sample would assign colors or even think of colors without you suggesting that it might be possible.

    I am somewhat anti-hypnosisly inclined…. My guard goes up and I don’t follow well with others just to be polite.

  2. #2 Chris Green
    February 2, 2008

    The term “color” in music is usually associated with tonality and harmony. Your use of so many percussion pieces short-circuited that seemingly “natural” association.

    The French composer Alexander Scriabin (a synaesthete) prescribed certain colors that were to be projected during various portions of his compositions. Apparently each key was reliably associated with a particualr color in his mind.

  3. #3 Chris Green
    February 2, 2008

    Oops. Turns out Scriabin was Russian, not French.

  4. #4 Qalmlea
    February 2, 2008

    There were several places where the piece suggested an interweaving of multiple colors to me, but your survey did not allow for this, so I chose the most prominent one. In another place, the primary color was “grey” with flashes of a hint of “yellow.” Lacking “grey”, I chose beige. (Oh, and I find it odd when people don’t associate music and colors… It’s like they’re missing half of the listening experience!)

  5. #5 Luna_the_cat
    February 2, 2008

    AAAarrrgh! I can’t do this! You don’t give the right options. And there’s nowhere to fill in “opening chord is pink, but modifies to red”, or “blue-green” or how I actually experience these! Sometimes even the predominant color isn’t even on the list!

  6. #6 mary
    February 2, 2008

    is this really about the order the colors were listed in? I wonder how it would be if you had squares of color instead of the words? Since music is about pattern and rhythm, it is hard to assign a single color… maybe easier to do for a tone.

  7. #7 Kristen
    February 2, 2008

    I definitely had very strong color associations for most of the pieces, but often found that the color I wanted was not on the options. While it is understandably impossible to list all the colors someone might associate, there were a few missing that seem important (black, white, gold, and ‘dark’ options for red and yellow).

  8. #8 Marc Connor
    February 3, 2008

    I was expecting the last track to be “Smoke On The Water”. I knew which shade of purple to pick and everything.

    It felt like sometimes, rather than choosing the ‘colour of the music’ itself, my first, gut reaction was usually the colour of the most prominent instrument… whoops.

  9. #9 Mark Hogg
    February 3, 2008

    Well, i haven’t done the test, merely looked at people’s responses. And if one thing seems clear, it is this…:

    1) That your test is, first of all, invalid. The connection of particular types of music to particular colours and shades in the mind is much more subjective than it is objective; and if you are forcing people to pick a certain colour for each piece, you are ruling out the possibility that the listener may, in fact, have an urge towards a colour not on the list – or, more importantly, that the listener may not link one excerpt to ANY colour or shade. And to proceed to the next question, they must make a choice of colour, thus nullifying the test!

    2) Finally, if “Chris Green” is correct in saying that most of your pieces are percussion based, this is also a poor test. Not only do you fail to cover wider genres which would give a wider spectrum of data, you have clearly missed the point that it is indeed the tonality, amongst other concepts, that influence the brain much more than rhythm.

    But anyway…

  10. #10 M.Hogg
    February 3, 2008

    and aye.. the reason i haven’t actually done the test is cos im still on dial up! I’ll do it when i get hold of a computer with broadband. and if my comments were misjudged, i apologise!

  11. #11 cmp
    February 5, 2008

    I found it surprising that I did assign colors to music but unfortunately the colors I usually visualized were white or black and occasionally grey, none of which were offered as choices…was that deliberate or were the selections random?

  12. #12 daveh
    February 5, 2008

    The colors available for selection were inadequate. It would be better if the selection of color utilized a full spectrum display upon which you clicked to indicate what was brought to mind.

  13. #13 Arni
    February 6, 2008

    Tried and failed miserably! When something came to mind (usually after several seconds of ,,why can’t I associate any colour with this!”), it was burgundy, silver or something strange…
    Even if I had a broader range of colours, I think I’d just be forcing an association.

  14. #14 alex
    February 6, 2008

    i couldn’t even finish this “test”. firstly, none of these were “songs”, they were all sound clips. secondly, most of them were percussion, which, to me as a musician (and sometime music writer) convey texture more than color. to me, if anything, color is associated with mood, and none of these sound clips conveyed any sort of mood. a more varied palette of musical styles would also possibly make this more relevant. otherwise, i don’t see how this study could tell you anything about anything.

  15. #15 angelina
    February 7, 2008

    The percussion pieces didn’t do much for me, and I am curious why so many were used. I saw them all as a dull yellow ochre, but didn’t want to use yellow because that would be too bright. Beige or brown, but not really. Also hard to decide between dark purple and light purple when all you want is purple.
    Nevertheless, I will be interested in the results.

  16. #16 Joe Shelby
    February 11, 2008

    Chris Green: The French composer with (reportedly) the strongest sense of synesthesia was Oliver Messiaen. American Leonard Bernstein claimed to have a mild case of it as well.

New comments have been disabled.