The diagnosticity of color for emotional objects

Brenton W. McMenamin, Jasmine Radue, Joanna Trask, Kristin Huskamp, Daniel Kersten, Chad J. Marsolek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Object classification can be facilitated if simple diagnostic features can be used to determine class membership. Previous studies have found that simple shapes may be diagnostic for emotional content and automatically alter the allocation of visual attention. In the present study, we analyzed whether color is diagnostic of emotional content and tested whether emotionally diagnostic hues alter the allocation of visual attention. Reddish-yellow hues are more common in (i.e., diagnostic of) emotional images, particularly images with positive emotional content. An exogenous cueing paradigm was employed to test whether these diagnostic hues orient attention differently from other hues due to the emotional diagnosticity. In two experiments, we found that participants allocated attention differently to diagnostic hues than to non-diagnostic hues, in a pattern indicating a broadening of spatial attention when cued with diagnostic hues. Moreover, the attentional broadening effect was predicted by self-reported measures of affective style, linking the behavioral effect to emotional processes. These results confirm the existence and use of diagnostic features for the rapid detection of emotional content.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)609-622
Number of pages14
JournalMotivation and Emotion
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2013


  • BAS
  • Color
  • Emotion
  • Red
  • Visual attentional

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