Gaze Duration Biases for Colours in Combination with Dissonant and Consonant Sounds: A Comparative Eye-Tracking Study with Orangutans

PLoS One. 2015 Oct 14;10(10):e0139894. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0139894. eCollection 2015.


Research on colour preferences in humans and non-human primates suggests similar patterns of biases for and avoidance of specific colours, indicating that these colours are connected to a psychological reaction. Similarly, in the acoustic domain, approach reactions to consonant sounds (considered as positive) and avoidance reactions to dissonant sounds (considered as negative) have been found in human adults and children, and it has been demonstrated that non-human primates are able to discriminate between consonant and dissonant sounds. Yet it remains unclear whether the visual and acoustic approach-avoidance patterns remain consistent when both types of stimuli are combined, how they relate to and influence each other, and whether these are similar for humans and other primates. Therefore, to investigate whether gaze duration biases for colours are similar across primates and whether reactions to consonant and dissonant sounds cumulate with reactions to specific colours, we conducted an eye-tracking study in which we compared humans with one species of great apes, the orangutans. We presented four different colours either in isolation or in combination with consonant and dissonant sounds. We hypothesised that the viewing time for specific colours should be influenced by dissonant sounds and that previously existing avoidance behaviours with regard to colours should be intensified, reflecting their association with negative acoustic information. The results showed that the humans had constant gaze durations which were independent of the auditory stimulus, with a clear avoidance of yellow. In contrast, the orangutans did not show any clear gaze duration bias or avoidance of colours, and they were also not influenced by the auditory stimuli. In conclusion, our findings only partially support the previously identified pattern of biases for and avoidance of specific colours in humans and do not confirm such a pattern for orangutans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Color Vision / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gorilla gorilla / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Music
  • Ocular Physiological Phenomena
  • Pongo / physiology
  • Sound*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*

Grants and funding

This work was funded by the Excellence Cluster Languages of Emotion/ DFG (EXC 302) and by Berlin Funding for Graduates (Elsa-Neumann Stipendium des Landes Berlin). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.