Why You Shouldn’t Trust Your Brain To Remember Something’s Colour

Why You Shouldn’t Trust Your Brain To Remember Something’s Colour

Whether you’re picking up paint or trying to match some clothing items, here’s the reason why you’re better off not trusting your memory and taking a photo instead.

Photo by Bob Mical

The human eye can distinguish between millions of colours, but it turns out that it’s almost impossible for our brains to remember exact shades of those colours. A recent study led by cognitive psychologist Jonathan Flombaum and published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, suggests exact shades go by the wayside because colours automatically get labelled as general “best version” colours in our brains. Flombaum explains in a John Hopkins University press release:

Trying to pick out a colour for touch-ups, I’d end up making a mistake. This is because I’d mis-remember my wall as more prototypically blue. It could be a green as far as Sherwin-Williams is concerned, but I remember it as blue… We can differentiate millions of colours, but to store this information, our brain has a trick. We tag the colour with a coarse label. That then makes our memories more biased, but still pretty useful.

Essentially, your brain uses a shortcut to help you remember the general colour, but won’t waste the energy to remember the exact shade. So the next time you’re trying your hardest to remember the right shade of paint — don’t. Get a sample, find the old labelled paint can, or even take a picture. No matter how good your memory is, your brain just won’t let you do it.

Why Some Colours Appear More Memorable Than Others [Journal of Experimental Psychology via Johns Hopkins University]