Cognitively Congruent Color Palette for Emotional Mapping

Kushkin, Andrei
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<p>Emotions are touchstones of human experience and are a fundamental part of everyday human life. Maps of emotions and sentiments are used to make our cities safer; to study natural disaster response; to inform marketing, business, and tourism-related research. The most common way to visualize emotions is by using color, such as placing point symbols on maps, with different colors standing for different experienced emotions. Recent findings in psychology suggest that humans have subjective associations between colors and abstract notions, including emotions. There is also evidence that such associations impact objective task performance. Thus, showing emotions on maps using general cartographic color palettes may lead to a mismatch between the emotion associated with a color and the emotion it represents. This may bias the viewer’s attention, perception, and understanding.</p> <p>There are guidelines for choosing optimal colors for different mapping contexts, but none helps in picking colors for showing emotional geographic data. This study aims to address this gap by designing and evaluating a cognitively congruent color palette — a set of colors matched to emotions in a way that is aligned with human associations.</p> <p>The set of candidate colors for this palette was obtained by a user experiment. Participants picked the most suitable color for each emotion in a list. A second user experiment was conducted to identify optimal color-to-emotion assignments. Participants were asked to match each color from a given set to emotions from a list. The probability of color being selected depending on the emotion served as a measure of how suitable the color is to represent the emotion. Due to the many-to-many nature of associations between colors and emotions, a dynamic palette generation tool was created. This tool solves the color assignment problem depending on the combination of the selected emotions.</p> <p>A sample cognitively congruent color palette was evaluated in a third user experiment regarding its influence on the map use experience, performance, and map-based decision making. The participants planned a walking tour using one of two maps showing the main attractions and how people feel in different parts of town: one using the cognitively congruent palette and the other using a general cartographic palette for categorical data. Upon task completion, participants completed a questionnaire to assess subjective task complexity and overall visual preference.</p> <p>The comparison results show a significant difference with small to medium effect size in task completion time and subjective workload estimate. Both are lower for the map using the cognitively congruent palette. Comparing the frequency of visits to different sites suggests a significant relationship between the type of color palette and how often people go to the attractions, providing evidence of the influence of color palette type on map-based decision-making.<p> <p>The outcome of this study is twofold. First, a developed tool for choosing colors to visualize emotions will help researchers, cartographers, and designers make informed design decisions and create visualizations that facilitate exploratory visualization and help to inspire the desired response from the users. Second, the findings provide a basis for further research, like investigating the extent to which map-based decisions can be influenced by color.<p>
Cartography, Color palettes, Color cognition, Visualization, Emotional mapping, Emotions
Kushkin, A. (2022). <i>Cognitively congruent color palette for emotional mapping</i> (Unpublished dissertation). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.