Observed universality in preference for color composition in paintings

Newswise — Overview

Professor Shigeki Nakauchi’s research team at Toyohashi University of Technology worked with researchers from the University of Minho (Braga, Portugal) to examine Japanese and Portuguese color composition preferences for Japanese paintings and Western cultures through experiments using the original paintings and paintings with modified color compositions. It was found that regardless of nationality, differences between Japanese and Western paintings, and differences between figurative and abstract paintings, many people preferred the original color composition even for paintings they had never seen. . This trend can also be seen for images composed of square pieces collected from different art paintings and composed as patchwork images. The universality of preference for color composition in paintings found in this study suggests that the beauty experienced towards paintings may have a common biological basis, more than cultural background or educational experience.


Color is one of the visual elements that has the most influence on personal preferences. For example, it has a major influence on a person’s decision-making process when selecting clothes or imagining the character of a company from the company logo. Product designers have a good understanding of the effect of color on consumer behavior and they use this effect as much as possible. There are even professional organizations that predict color trends.

The same goes for the importance of color with paints. Artists attempt to express their personal aesthetic experience unless there is a business reason to do otherwise. Accordingly, it can be said that the color composition of the paintings simply reflects the artist’s sensitivity and preferences for color. A lot of research has been done on color preference, but the differences in preference between individuals are significant and most research has really been done for single colors. For this reason, scientific understanding of the preferences for balance or harmony of many colors (color composition) such as in paintings has not advanced.

To clarify preferences for color composition in paintings, this research only changed the colors of paintings, without altering spatial composition or lightness. The color range for each paint piece was rotated counterclockwise around the average color (Figure 1). In doing so, the relationship between the colors found in the painting and the average saturation remained unchanged from the original, while the impression of color composition in the paintings was significantly altered. We prepared paints by rotating the color gamut 90, 180, and 270 degrees counter-clockwise, and asked experiment participants to choose the color composition they preferred the most. more among the four varieties of paintings, which also included the original painting (four-alternative forced choice). For the experiment, 40 paintings were prepared, of which 20 were Western and Japanese paintings that were photographed in Portugal and Japan (Toyohashi City Museum of Art and History) and the remaining 20 were taken from art galleries on the Internet. 90 people from Japan and 45 people from Portugal participated in the experiment. The participants had received no special education in art.

From the results of the experiment, we found that about 70% of participants, Japanese and Portuguese, preferred the color composition of the original painting the most, even for paintings they had never seen before. . (However, when selected at random, this drops to 25% as the chance level.) This trend was the same for abstract painting depicted without objects associated with a specific color, for example the sky or human faces.

We also divided each painting into pieces and blurred these pieces, as well as created a patchwork image from pieces of 20 different paintings to make the painted content in the painting difficult to distinguish, as shown in Figure 2, and carried out the same experiment. We found that about 60% of participants preferred the scrambled paint of the original paint or the color composition of the patchwork paint of the original paints the most.

These results indicate the following:

  1. Painters and non-painters share to some extent a common standard for the beauty and appeal of color, regardless of differences in artistic education or cultural background based on whether the color composition selected based on of the participants’ preference therefore coincided with what the painter had painted.
  2. As the original painting was preferred even when blurred, there may be regularities in the color composition that indicate the originality of the painting rather than the color of memory offering clues, such as something painted that evokes a particular picture.
  3. As the original color composition was preferred even for the patchwork images, there may be a biological mechanism for experiencing beauty (allure) where common characteristics are present among paintings by completely different artists, and the painter and the no painter feel this beauty, whether they are or not. conscious or not.

Future prospects

The research team believe that each person has a mechanism for detecting allure and beauty for color composition and that this characteristic may be surprisingly common among people. What factors influence beauty? Why do humans have a mechanism for feeling beauty in the first place? We hope to answer these questions about beauty, considered as a highly individual and subjective thing, by clarifying the mechanism of our decision-making process for “liking” photos on social networks, selecting clothes and deciding on the interior decoration of bedrooms. .


The measurements of the Japanese paintings were carried out in cooperation with the Toyohashi City Museum of Art and History. This research has received the following support: JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number JP19H01119 and 20H05956 and the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) under the Strategic Funding.


Shigeki Nakauchi, Taisei Kondo, Yuya Kinzuka, Yuma Taniyama, Hideki Tamura, Hiroshi Higashi, Kyoko Hine, Tetsuto Minami, João MM Linhares & Sérgio MC Nascimento, Universality and preference superiority for color composition of art paintings. Scientific reports 12, 4294 (2022).

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