The processing of color preference in the brain

Neuroimage. 2019 May 1;191:529-536. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.02.041. Epub 2019 Feb 21.


Decades of research has established that humans have preferences for some colors (e.g., blue) and a dislike of others (e.g., dark chartreuse), with preference varying systematically with variation in hue (e.g., Hurlbert and Owen, 2015). Here, we used functional MRI to investigate why humans have likes and dislikes for simple patches of color, and to understand the neural basis of preference, aesthetics and value judgements more generally. We looked for correlations of a behavioural measure of color preference with the blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) response when participants performed an irrelevant orientation judgement task on colored squares. A whole brain analysis found a significant correlation between BOLD activity and color preference in the posterior midline cortex (PMC), centred on the precuneus but extending into the adjacent posterior cingulate and cuneus. These results demonstrate that brain activity is modulated by color preference, even when such preferences are irrelevant to the ongoing task the participants are engaged. They also suggest that color preferences automatically influence our processing of the visual world. Interestingly, the effect in the PMC overlaps with regions identified in neuroimaging studies of preference and value judgements of other types of stimuli. Therefore, our findings extends this literature to show that the PMC is related to automatic encoding of subjective value even for basic visual features such as color.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Color Perception / physiology*
  • Esthetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male