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Culture and Cognition: What is Universal about the Representation of Color Experience?

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Existing research in color naming and categorization primarily reflects two opposing views: A Cultural Relativist view that posits color perception is greatly shaped by culturally specific language associations and perceptual learning, and a Universalist view that emphasizes panhuman shared color processing as the basis for color naming similarities within and across cultures. Recent empirical evidence finds color processing differs both within and across cultures. This divergent color processing raises new questions about the sources of previously observed cultural coherence and cross-cultural universality. The present article evaluates the relevance of individual variation on the mainstream model of color naming. It also presents an alternate view that specifies how color naming and categorization is shaped by both panhuman cognitive universals and socio-cultural evolutionary processes. This alternative view, expressed, in part, using an Interpoint Distance Model of color categorization, is compatible with new empirical results showing divergent color processing within and across cultures. It suggests that universalities in color naming and categorization may naturally arise across cultures because color language and color categories primarily reflect culturally modal linguistic mappings, and categories are shaped by universal cognitive constructs and culturally salient features of color. Thus, a shared cultural representation of color based on widely shared cognitive dimensions may be the proper foundation for universalities of color naming and categorization. Across cultures this form of representation may result from convergent responses to similar pressures on color lexicon evolution.


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