Universality observed preferentially for color


Image: Color space has been rotated counter-clockwise around average color without changing spatial composition or brightness. The impression of the color composition in the paintings has been greatly changed, while the brightness, color average and color proportions have remained unchanged. Around 70% of the participants preferred the original painting the most, even for paintings they had never seen before. Above: Masayoshi Nakamura “Hana”, late 20th century, housed in the Toyohashi City Museum of Art and History; Below: Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso “Brut (300 TSF) 2” in 1917, public domain, source: WikiArt (http://wikiart.org)
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Professor Shigeki Nakauchi’s research team at Toyohashi University of Technology collaborated with researchers at the University of Minho (Braga, Portugal) to study Japanese and Portuguese color composition preferences for Japanese and Western paintings through experiments with original paintings and artificial paintings examine changed color compositions. It was found that regardless of nationality, differences in Japanese and Western painting, and differences in figurative and abstract painting, many people preferred the original color composition even for paintings they had never seen. This trend can also be seen in the paintings composed of square pieces collected from various art paintings and put together as patchwork paintings. The universality of preference for color composition in paintings found in this study suggests that beauty as perceived towards paintings may have a common biological basis, more than a cultural background or educational experience.


Color is one of the visual elements that has the greatest impact on personal preferences. For example, it has a great impact on a person’s decision-making when it comes to choosing clothes or imagining the character of a company from the company logo. Product designers understand the effect of color on consumer behavior very well and use this effect as much as possible. There are even professional organizations that predict color trends.

The same applies to the importance of color in paintings. Artists seek to express their personal aesthetic experience unless there is a commercial reason to do otherwise. As a result, it can be said that the color composition of paintings simply reflects the artist’s sensibilities and preferences for color. Extensive research has been done on color preference, but variation in preference between individuals is large, and most research has really been done on individual colors. Because of this, a scientific understanding of preferences for the balance or harmony of many colors (color composition) as in paintings has not evolved.

To clarify preferences for color composition in paintings, this research only changed colors in paintings without changing spatial composition or brightness. The color scale for each image slice was rotated counter-clockwise around the average color (illustration 1). The relationship between the colors found in the painting and the mean saturation remained unchanged compared to the original, while the impression of the color composition in the paintings was greatly changed. We prepared paintings by rotating the color wheel 90, 180, and 270 degrees counterclockwise, and asked the participants in the experiment to choose from the four types of paintings that included the original painting (four-alternative forced choice). For the experiment, 40 paintings were prepared, 20 of which were Western and Japanese paintings photographed in Portugal and Japan (Toyohashi City Museum of Art and History), and the remaining 20 were from art galleries on the Internet. 90 people from Japan and 45 people from Portugal took part in the experiment. The participants had received no special artistic training.

From the results of the experiment, we found that about 70% of the participants, both Japanese and Portuguese, most preferred the color composition of the original painting, even for paintings they had never seen before. (However, when chosen at random, this dropped to 25% as the probability level.) This trend was the same for abstract painting, which is rendered without objects associated with a particular color, e.g. B. the sky or human faces.

We also divided each painting into pieces and threw those pieces around, and created a patchwork image using pieces from 20 different paintings to make the content of the painting difficult to distinguish, as shown in figure 2, and performed the same experiment. We found that about 60% of the participants preferred the jumbled painting of the original painting or the color composition of the patchwork painting of original paintings the most.

These results indicate that:

  1. Painters and non-painters share, to some extent, a common standard of beauty and color impact, regardless of differences in art education or cultural background, based on the fact that the color composition chosen based on participant preference is consistent with the the painter had painted.
  2. Because the original painting was preferred, even if scrambled, there may be some regularities in the color composition that indicate the originality of the painting rather than the memorial color that gives clues, e.g. B. when something is painted that evokes a certain image.
  3. Since the original color composition was preferred even for the patchwork paintings, there may be a biological mechanism for feeling beauty (fascination) when there are common features between paintings by vastly different artists, and both painters and non-painters alike feel that beauty , regardless of whether they are aware of it or not.

future outlook

The research team believes that everyone has a mechanism for sensing the excitement and beauty of color composition, and that this trait is surprisingly common in humans. What factors influence beauty? Why do people even have a mechanism to feel beauty? We hope to answer these questions about beauty, which is seen as highly individual and subjective, by exploring the mechanism behind our decision-making process for liking photos on social media, choosing clothing, and deciding on interior design Clarify rooms.


Measurements were taken on Japanese paintings in cooperation with the Toyohashi City Museum of Art and History. This research received the following support: JSPS KAKENHI Grant Numbers JP19H01119 and 20H05956 and the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) under Strategic Grants.


Shigeki Nakauchi, Taisei Kondo, Yuya Kinzuka, Yuma Taniyama, Hideki Tamura, Hiroshi Higashi, Kyoko Hine, Tetsuto Minami, João MM Linhares & Sérgio MC Nascimento, Universality and Superiority in the Preference for the Chromatic Composition of Art Paintings. Scientific Reports 12, 4294 (2022).

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