Welcome to our new Postdoc, Christopher Thorstenson

Christopher Thorstenson
We are excited to welcome Christopher Thorstenson, who joined our lab in June 2019. Christopher received his Ph.D. in Social & Personality Psychology from the University of Rochester in 2019, and his M.S. in Color Science at the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2017. His research focuses on the role of color in social communication.

Congrats to Brianne Sherman

Brianne ShermanBrianne Sherman received a Welton Sophomore Honors Summer Apprenticeship to support her summer research studying the effects of object recognition on color perception.  We are excited to have Bri in the lab!

Multiple lab awards in Spring 2019

Shannon SibrelKaren Schloss Congrats to Melissa Schoenlein, Shannon Sibrel, and Karen Schloss for receiving awards to present their research at the 2019 annual meeting of the Vision Sciences Society.

Melissa Schoenlein: McPherson Eye Research Institute Walsh Research Travel Award

Shannon Sibrel: UW-Madison Psychology Department Undergraduate Travel Award

Karen Schloss: Vision Sciences Society National Eye Institute Travel Grant

New Publication: What color are emergency exit signs? Egress behavior differs from verbal report

Our new article on people’s interpretations of exit sign colors in simulated emergencies was recently published in Applied Ergonomics.

We found that people were most likely to walk toward green signs in virtual environments during simulated emergencies. Yet, immediately after, they reported that exit signs in the building were red and that exit signs should be red. This surprising dissociation between walking behavior and verbal report emphasizes the importance of studying behavior in realistic environments.


Kinateder, M. Warren, W. H., & Schloss, K. B. (2019). What color are emergency exit signs? Egress behavior differs from verbal report. Applied Ergonomics, 75, 155-160.

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. 

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

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™

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