New Publication: Mapping color to meaning in colormap data visualizations

Our paper on how on how people interpret colormap data visualizations was recently published in IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics (TVCG) and presented at InfoVis 2018.

We found that people are better at interpreting colormaps when darker colors map to larger quantities (dark-is-more bias), regardless of the background color, when colormaps do not appear to vary in opacity. Yet, when colormaps do appear to vary in opacity there is evidence for an opaque-is-more bias. These two biases work together on light backgrounds but conflict on dark backgrounds.


Schloss, K. B., Gramazio, C. C., Silverman, A. T., Parker, M., L., & Wang, A. S. (2019). Mapping color to meaning in colormap data visualizations. IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, 25, 1, 1-10.

New Publication: Color, Music, and Emotion: Bach to the Blues


Our new article on color-music associations for a wide variety of genres was recently published in i-Perception. 

Color-music associations can be predicted from lower-level perceptual dimensions and higher-level emotional dimensions, but evidence indicates that the lower-level correspondences are mediated by shared emotional content between the colors and the music.


Whiteford, K. L., Schloss, K. B., Helwig, N. E., & Palmer, S. E. (2018). Color, Music, and Emotion: Bach to the Blues. i-Perception9(6), 1-27. 

UW Virtual Brain Project™

The UW Virtual Brain Project™ is making education more engaging through virtual reality (VR). The immersive learning environments spark excitement, and  improve student’s understanding of how the brain works.

To demonstrate the potential of VR-based learning, we have developed two lesson plans which can be downloaded below:  The Virtual Visual System™ and Virtual Auditory System™. The lesson plans immerse people in a model of the brain based on real brain scans, allowing them to follow the path from sensory input to cortex. Information stations along the way describe key topics at each stage of neural processing.

Our perspective on VR education is that VR is a lens, analogous to a microscope or telescope, through which students  experience content that would otherwise be difficult to see. We believe that the future of VR in the classroom is to provide enriched experiences that are integrated within the larger course structure, rather than supplant traditional education. Just as students do not spend entire classes with microscopes or telescopes attached to their face, they also need not to spend entire classes wearing VR headsets. VR acts as a springboard to facilitate class discussion and activities, rather than isolate students from each other and the instructor. Thus, the UW Virtual Brain Project™ lessons are brief (about 5 min.) and can be built into regular lessons on neural structure and function.

In the classroom. In Spring 2019, Professor Karen Schloss implemented the Virtual Visual System™ and Virtual Auditory System™ in her lecture course Psychology of Perception (Psych 406) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. With 25 Oculus Go headsets in hand, approx. 80 students cycled through a VR experience in about 20 min. This timing enabled setting up the topic using traditional lecturing methods, completing the VR experience, and then conducting group activities to practice content learned in VR and re-engage with the class community.

In the lab. The UW Virtual Brain Project™ team is  conducting research to demonstrate the efficacy of VR-based education and  to identify the aspects of VR that are especially beneficial to learning outcomes.

UW Virtual Brain Project™ team: Karen Schloss • Bas Rokers • Chris Racey • Simon Smith • Ross Treddinick • Nathaniel Miller • Melissa Schoenlein • Chris Castro

Download the UW Virtual Brain Project™

Color Preference

Explaining Color Preferences
Why do people have color preferences? Why do color preferences differ between individuals and why do they change over time? Much of our research on answering these questions is motivated by the Ecological Valence Theory (EVT), which proposes that preference for a color is determined by preference for all objects and entities associated that color. We also evaluate other theories to test their ability to explain color preferences.

Color Preference Metrics
Dandelions Single
What are effective ways to describe patterns of color preferences? How can we predict people’s preferences for colors they haven’t judged? We are constructing and evaluating models built from color space dimensions in color spaces, which provide parsimonious descriptions of complex patterns of data.
Papers on this topic
Schloss, K. B., Lessard, L., Racey, C., & Hurlbert, A. C. (online 2017). Modeling color preferences using color space metrics. Vision Research. Link

Schloss, K. B. & Palmer, S.E. (2017). An ecological framework for temporal and individual differences in color preferences. Vision Research, 141, 95-108. Link

Schloss, K. B., & Heck, I. A. (2017). Seasonal changes in color preferences are linked to variations in environmental colors: A longitudinal study of fall, i-Perception, 8, 6, 1-19. PDF

Schloss, K. B., Nelson, R., Parker, L., Heck, I. A., & Palmer, S. E. (2017). Seasonal variations in color preference. Cognitive Science, 41, 6, 1589-1612. Link

Yokosawa, K., Schloss, K. B., Asano, M., & Palmer, S. E. (2016). Ecological Effects in Cross-Cultural Differences Between U.S. and Japanese Color Preferences, Cognitive Science, 40, 7, 1590-1616.Link

Schloss, K. B. (2015). Color preferences differ with variations in color perception. Trends in Cognitive Science, 19, 554-555. Link

Schloss, K. B., Hawthorne, D. & Palmer, S. E. (2015). Ecological influences of individual differences in color preferences. Attention, Perception and Psychophysics, 77, 2803-2816. Link

Strauss, E. D., Schloss, K. B., & Palmer, S. E. (2013). Color preferences change after experience with liked/disliked color objects. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 20, 5, 935-943. Link

Taylor, C., Schloss, K. B., & Palmer, S. E., & Franklin, A. (2013). Color preferences in infants and adults are different. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 20, 5, 916-922. Link

Schloss, K. B., Poggesi, R. M., & Palmer, S. E. (2011). Effects of university affiliation and “school spirit” on color preferences: Berkeley vs. Stanford. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 18, 498-504. PDF

Palmer, S. E. & Schloss, K. B. (2010). An ecological valence theory of color preferences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107, 8877-8882. PDF

Information Visualization

Color Brewer Blue

To interpret information visualizations, people must determine how perceptual features (e.g., color, shape, size, texture) map onto concepts. This process is easier when the encoded mapping between perceptual features and concepts in visualizations matches people’s expectations. The questions is, what determines people’s expectations? Answering this question will enable the design of visualizations that are easier to interpret.

Paper(s) on this topic
Kinateder, M. Warren, W. H., & Schloss, K. B. (in press). Exit sign color and exit choice. Applied Ergonomics.

Schloss, K. B., Gramazio, C. C., Silverman, A. T., Parker, M., L., and Wang, A. S. (in press) Mapping color to meaning in colormap data visualizations. IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics.

Schloss, K. B., Lessard, L., Walmsley, C. S., & Foley, K. (2018). Color inference in visual communication: The meaning of colors in recycling. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 3, 5. PDF

Colorgorical: An interactive color palette generating tool

ColorgoricalHow can we generate color palettes for data visualization that are easy to perceive and enjoyable to experience? We are developing Colorgorical (“Color” + “categorical”) to address this question for categorical data visualizations. Designed and evaluated using empirical data, Colorgorical helps balance aesthetics and perceptual discriminability.

Paper(s) on this topic
Gramazio, C. C., Laidlaw, D. H., and Schloss, K. B. (2017). Colorgorical: Creating discriminable and preferable color palettes for information visualization. IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, 23, 1. PDF

Congrats to Shannon Sibrel!

The Psychology Department at the University of Wisconsin – Madison honored Shannon Sibrel with a 2018 Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award for her work in our lab. Congratulations, Shannon!

In the media: Communicating with color

Our recent study on communicating with color by Karen Schloss, Laurent Lessard, Charlotte Walmsley, and Katie Foley was featured in the news:

Interview with Karen Schloss on WISC-TV News 3
Article in the UW Madison News by Chris Barncard.


This study was published in Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications:
Schloss, K. B., Lessard, L., Walmsley, C. S., & Foley, K. (2018). Color inference in visual communication: The meaning of colors in recycling. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 3, 5, 1-17.  PDF