Color categories: confirmation of the relativity hypothesis

Debi Roberson, Jules Davidoff, Ian R.L. Davies, Laura R. Shapiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The question of whether language affects our categorization of perceptual continua is of particular interest for the domain of color where constraints on categorization have been proposed both within the visual system and in the visual environment. Recent research (Roberson, Davies, & Davidoff, 2000; Roberson et al., in press) found substantial evidence of cognitive color differences between different language communities, but concerns remained as to how representative might be a tiny, extremely remote community. The present study replicates and extends previous findings using additional paradigms among a larger community in a different visual environment. Adult semi-nomadic tribesmen in Southern Africa carried out similarity judgments, short-term memory and long-term learning tasks. They showed different cognitive organization of color to both English and another language with the five color terms. Moreover, Categorical Perception effects were found to differ even between languages with broadly similar color categories. The results provide further evidence of the tight relationship between language and cognition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)378-411
Number of pages34
JournalCognitive Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2005

Bibliographical note

© 2005, Elsevier. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International


  • color
  • perceptual categorization
  • linguistic relativity


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