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Rutgers-Camden Professor Researches Color Memory and Perception
CAMDEN — Remembering colors seems like an easy task. Everyone recalls the color of a stop sign. However, if you’ve ever tried to choose décor that matches the color of paint in your home, you understand how difficult it can be.
Everyday experience suggests that color memory can be very good, or very poor. A Rutgers–Camden professor is researching whether how you perceive color, not how you remember it, is the reason why.
Sarah Allred, an assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers–Camden, is the recipient of a five-year, $487,155 grant from the National Science Foundation to support her research on color memory and perception.
The Rutgers–Camden scholar contends that one’s perception of a color influences how he or she remembers it.
“I’m interested in studying how what we perceive is related to what we remember,” Allred says. “When our memory is poor, it might be because of complications in perceptual processing.”
Allred says early research has shown that people can remember colors as accurately as they can distinguish the difference between two objects presented to them at the same time.
However, more recent studies in cognitive psychology say people are not very good at remembering colors. These cognitive psychologists, Allred claims, would predict that if you grow up in a culture in which stop signs are a particular shade of red, you’re going to be biased towards that shade of red when asked to recall it.
“Many researchers use color memory to demonstrate the cultural dependence of perception and memory,” Allred says. “I am predicting that these studies are flawed, and that color perception and memory are much more universal. My experiments will provide evidence one way or the other.”
Her research will include experiments that will range from asking someone to look at colors on a computer screen to painting objects and asking people to remember the color.
“If you look at an object and come back a week later, can you pick out the paint chip that matches the color of the object,” Allred asks. “That seems like a simple task, but it turns out to be quite complicated because we’re so good at discriminating colors.”
The grant money will help Allred purchase materials and equipment for her research and also provides funds for outreach in Camden high schools.
She’s planning to recruit two or three high school students per year to work with Rutgers–Camden undergraduate students in her lab on the research. The grant includes funding to pay the high school students and the undergrads for one afternoon per week during the school year and almost full-time during the summer.
Allred hopes the peer-to-peer mentoring experience increases the likelihood the high school students attend college and the undergrad students attend graduate school. The grant also includes funding that will allow the students to attend an academic conference if their work leads to publication.
A Philadelphia resident, Allred teaches Perception, Method and Theory, and Psychology, Philosophy, Poetry of Color, and Evolutionary Psychology at Rutgers–Camden. She received her undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University and her graduate degree from the University of Washington.
Media Contact: Ed Moorhouse