Not having a name for a color can affect our perception of it. Look at the image to the right. Can you tell which of these colors is not like the others? (You can click to enlarge the image if you like.) To me, they all look exactly the same. Most Westerners will have difficulty picking out the color that is different, but the Himba people of northern Namibia can pick it out easily, according to a BBC program. In fact, they have a different word for it. However, the test pictured below is more difficult for them, whereas you can probably pick out the blue square easily.
Part of the reason it is easy for Westerners to pick out the color that is different below is that we have a different name for it. While it is clear to us that there is one blue square among many green ones, the Himba use the same word to describe both colors, and this makes it more difficult to pick out the square that is different.
So, do you know which green is different in the first test? I had to use the eyedropper tool in an image manipulation program to identify it. To see the CMYK values of each square, click here.
The stills above are from the BBC program Horizons: Do You See What I See?, which is all about color perception, and can be viewed here.
The Himba Color Chart
I haven’t seen a published study based on the research shown in the BBC program, so I would be curious to see how strong the “odd one out” effect really is. However, the fact that Himba speakers define colors differently from English speakers is well-documented. It was shown by Debi Roberson, et al. in Color Categories: Evidence for the Cultural Relativity Hypothesis, published in Cognitive Psychology, July 2005. These charts show the difference.
The chart above shows the names that English speakers give different colors. Below is how Himba speakers define them.
Studies like this one use color chips from the Munsell color system, created by Albert Munsell in the early 20th century. You can see the 160-chip chart without color name labels below. Each color is specified by hue, value (lightness), and chroma (related to saturation). The chart lists the Munsell hues as columns and values (lightness) as rows. Each color is at the full saturation (chroma) possible for that color. For each Munsell color, the corresponding RGB value suitable for display on a monitor was obtained from Andrew Werth’s website.
For more about colors read Red and Green Make Yellow.