Why some colors appear more memorable than others: A model combining categories and particulars in color working memory

Gi Yeul Bae, Maria Olkkonen, Sarah R. Allred, Jonathan I. Flombaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

143 Scopus citations


Categorization with basic color terms is an intuitive and universal aspect of color perception. Yet research on visual working memory capacity has largely assumed that only continuous estimates within color space are relevant to memory. As a result, the influence of color categories on working memory remains unknown. We propose a dual content model of color representation in which color matches to objects that are either present (perception) or absent (memory) integrate category representations along with estimates of specific values on a continuous scale ("particulars"). We develop and test the model through 4 experiments. In a first experiment pair, participants reproduce a color target, both with and without a delay, using a recently influential estimation paradigm. In a second experiment pair, we use standard methods in color perception to identify boundary and focal colors in the stimulus set. The main results are that responses drawn from working memory are significantly biased away from category boundaries and toward category centers. Importantly, the same pattern of results is present without a memory delay. The proposed dual content model parsimoniously explains these results, and it should replace prevailing single content models in studies of visual working memory. More broadly, the model and the results demonstrate how the main consequence of visual working memory maintenance is the amplification of category related biases and stimulus-specific variability that originate in perception.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)744-763
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Categorization
  • Color perception
  • Delayed estimation
  • Visual working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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