Haptic and Tactile Adjectives Are Consistently Mapped onto Color Space

in Multisensory Research
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Cross-modal associations refer to non-arbitrary associations of features across sensory modalities. Such associations have been observed between many different sensory features. One association that has rarely been studied so far is between touch and color. In this study, participants were asked to match tactile and haptic adjectives to color samples shown individually on a screen. They could select one to 11 tactile and haptic terms, presented in 11 pairs of opposed adjectives. The results showed a regular pattern in the way tactile and haptic terms were matched to color. Our results further revealed that the colors to which tactile and haptic terms were matched did not fall within the boundaries of color lexical categories, suggesting that the associations were not based on lexicon — despite the frequent occurrence of linguistic expressions such as ‘soft pink’, not all colors called ‘pink’ were matched to ‘soft’. In contrast with one recent study, the distribution of tactile and haptic terms across the Munsell array suggests that along with brightness and chroma, hue was also relevant to participants’ responses. Specifically in the case of hue, several opposed adjectives were relatively well matched to opposed colors, along the orthogonal Yellow/Blue and Red/Green axes, which are suggested to structure the space of hue experience. Possible accounts of these results are considered.

Multisensory Research

A Journal of Scientific Research on All Aspects of Multisensory Processing



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  • In (A) the bars indicate, among the color samples matched to a tactile/haptic term, the percentage of those which carried the label of a given color category. For example: 41.2% of colors matched to ‘soft’ are labeled ‘pink’. Conversely, in (B) the bars indicate, among the color samples carrying a certain color label, the percentage of those which were matched to a given tactile/haptic term. For example 35% of colors labeled ‘pink’ are matched to ‘soft’. The cut-off point for both tactile/haptic and color lexicons is 50%.

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  • Distribution of the adjectives cold/warm (A) and soft/hard (B) onto the Munsell color array as partitioned by the Lebanese Arabic color lexicon (mode map). The letters C and W indicate the location of the adjectives ‘cold’ and ‘warm’, respectively, on the Munsell array, while S and H stand for ‘soft’ and ‘hard’. The size of the letters indicates the strength of the association (i.e., participant consensus as measured by the frequency of choice in a group of participants) between a target color sample and an adjective ‘cold’, ‘warm’, ‘soft’ and ‘hard’. The largest letters indicates the frequency 65x; medium sized letters indicate the frequency 50x<65%; smallest sized letters, in small caps, indicate the frequency 25x<50% and were included here to give a sense of the wider extension of the haptic term in color space. The blocks stand for different Arabic color terms. From left to right, bottom to top: ‘white’, ‘grey’, ‘black’, ‘pink’, ‘red’, ‘orange’, ‘brown’, ‘yellow’, ‘green’, ‘blue’, ‘purple’. This figure is published in color in the online version.

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  • Histograms of the frequency of match of smooth/rough to hue, presented along the Munsell hue circle for values 9 (top) and 2 (bottom). On the circle, the hues vary clockwise from R (at the top of the circle) to Y, YR, Y, GY, G, BG, B, PB, P, RP, and include the four available steps for each hue (2.5, 5, 7.5 and 10) knowing that only two steps were used in this study (2.5 and 7.5). The concentric circles represent the reached consensus level, with increment of 5%. Thus for example, at brightness level 9, smooth is matched to the hue 2.5R by x% of the participants, where x is 60<x65%.

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  • Representation of the most consensual hues on the Munsell hue circle for the following pairs of adjectives, from left to right, top to bottom: smooth/rough, soft/hard, fluid/viscous, humid/dry, warm/cold, light/heavy, and thin/thick. The circles indicate the hue with the highest participant consensus for a specific adjective, with each adjective within a pair being represented by a full or empty circle. The dashed lines represent the two orthogonal axes of opposed colors in Munsell, while the black lines show the relation of the hues matched to opposed adjectives.

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