Facial expressions alter color memory

Summary: Facial expressions influence the memory color effect, with angry and fearful faces more strongly affected than neutral faces. Participants perceived achromatic angry and fearful faces as red-yellow, indicating that expression affects color memory.

This research highlights how emotion and color memory are interconnected. Future studies aim to explore attention to different facial expressions and colors.

Key facts:

  1. Angry and fearful faces affect memory color more than neutral faces.
  2. Participants saw achromatic angry and fearful faces as red-yellow.
  3. Research published in Journal of Vision on May 31, 2024.

Source: TUT

The link between facial expressions and the memory color effect has been elucidated through a collaborative effort involving the Cognitive Neurotechnology Unit and the Visual Perception and Cognition Laboratory in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Toyohashi University of Technology.

The memory color effect refers to the phenomenon in which the knowledge of the typical color of a specific object (the memory color) affects the knowledge of its actual color.

This study showed that angry and fearful faces were more affected in terms of color recognition due to the memory color effect compared to neutral faces and that memory colors differed between expressions.

However, it was not well understood whether everyday memories of face colors or memory colors formed by recognizing the typical colors of specific objects also differ between expressions. Credit: Neuroscience News

The results of this study were published online at Journal of Vision on May 31, 2024.

The details

The face is an important characteristic for recognizing individuals, and as shown by Japanese phrases such as “kaoiro wo ukagau” (Look at the complexion; ie, be sensitive to someone’s mood, read someone’s appearance), facial color plays a key role in reading a person’s emotions.

Recent research has shown that facial color alters an individual’s judgment of expressions, with a ruddy face tending to be perceived as angry, for example, even when presented with faces with the same features.

However, it was not well understood whether everyday memories of face colors or memory colors formed by recognizing the typical colors of specific objects also differ between expressions.

Therefore, the research team focused on the phenomenon in which color recognition varies according to memory colors, known as the color memory effect, and used facial images with different expressions and colors to conduct a psychophysical experiment.

Experimental participants were asked to choose which color a face appeared to have from two options (“typical color” and “opposite color”) for face images presented to them.

Typical color refers to the color that the observer holds as knowledge of the object and refers to skin color, among others, in the case of faces. The opposite color refers to the color that is opposite the typical color in terms of hue.

The experiment used three expressive images with an angry face, a neutral face and a fearful face in different colors. The experiment was conducted in a dimly lit room maintained at a constant brightness, thus mitigating the influence of ambient brightness on color appearance.

The results of the experiment showed that angry and fearful faces that were actually achromatic (gray) tended to appear red-yellow tinted, their typical color, more than neutral achromatic faces.

Since red-yellow, the memory color for angry and fearful faces, has a higher saturation than for neutral faces, it is possible that the achromatic face color may tend to appear tinted with the typical color.

This is similar to previous research reporting that expressions bias remembered face color, and the remembered face color was red-yellow with a higher saturation than when actually observed.

First-year doctoral candidate in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and lead author of this study, Yuya Hasegawa, explains: “In general, the color that brings anger to mind is red, and red is also often used when expressing anger. . In that case, do people regularly and empirically remember angry faces as redder than neutral faces?

“We hypothesized that if people change the color of faces depending on their expression when remembering them, the memory color should change for each expression, which inspired this study.”

Future Prospects

These results are the first to reveal that expressions exert an influence on faces at the color level of memory. Memory and attention are closely related.

In the future, we will test whether attention tends to be directed to “angry red faces” in preference to normal angry faces or neutral red faces and explore how to deepen our understanding of the mechanisms by which remembered face color varies by expression. .


This research was supported by JSPS Grants-in-Aid for Science JP22K17987, JP20H05956 and JP20H04273.

About this news about facial expression and memory research

Author: Shino Okazaki
Source: TUT
Contact: Shino Okazaki – TUT
Image: Image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original research: Open access.
“Facial Expressions Affect Face Color Memory” by Hasegawa, Y et al. Journal of Vision


Facial expressions affect the memory of face colors

Facial color affects the perception of facial expressions, and emotional expressions bias how facial color is remembered. However, it remains unclear whether facial expressions influence everyday face color memory.

The color memory effect shows that knowledge of typical colors influences the perception of the actual color of given objects. To investigate the face color memory effect, we examined whether the memory color effect for faces varies depending on the facial expression.

We calculated the subjective achromatic point of the facial expression image stimulus and compared the degree to which it shifted from the actual achromatic point between the facial expression conditions.

We hypothesized that if face color memory is influenced by the color of the facial expression (eg, anger is a warm color, fear is a cool color), then the subjective achromatic point would vary with facial expression.

In Experiment 1, we recruited 13 participants who conditioned the color of facial expression stimuli (anger, neutral, and fear) and a banana stimulus to be achromatic.

No significant differences were observed in subjective achromatic score between facial expressions. Next, we conducted Experiment 2 with 23 participants because Experiment 1 did not consider sensitivity to facial color changes; people perceive greater color differences in faces than in non-faces.

Participants chose which face color they believed to be the expression stimulus, choosing one of two options given to them.

The results showed that the subjective achromatic points of angry and fearful faces shifted significantly towards the opposite direction of color compared to neutral faces in the glimpse condition.

This study suggests that the color memory of faces varies depending on the facial expressions and supports the idea that the perception of emotional expressions can bias the memory of face colors.

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