Is Lighter and More Greenish Than [o]: Intrinsic Association between Vowel Sounds and Colors

Hyun Woong Kim, Hosung Nam, Chai Youn Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


It has recently been reported in the synesthesia literature that graphemes sharing the same phonetic feature tend to induce similar synesthetic colors. In the present study, we investigated whether phonetic properties are associated with colors in a specific manner among the general population, even when other visual and linguistic features of graphemes are removed. To test this hypothesis, we presented vowel sounds synthesized by systematically manipulating the position of the tongue body's center. Participants were asked to choose a color after hearing each sound. Results from the main experiment showed that lightness and chromaticity of matched colors exhibited systematic variations along the two axes of the position of the tongue body's center. Some non-random associations between vowel sounds and colors remained effective with pitch and intensity of the sounds equalized in the control experiment, which suggests that other acoustic factors such as inherent pitch of vowels cannot solely account for the current results. Taken together, these results imply that the association between phonetic features and colors is not random, and this synesthesia-like association is shared by people in the general population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-437
Number of pages19
JournalMultisensory Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Sujin Kim, Yuna Kwak, and Minsun Park for their helpful comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grant funded by the Korean government (MSIP) (No. NRF-2016R1A2B4011267) awarded to C-YK and by National Institutes of Health-National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIH-NIDCD) Grant No. DC-002717 to Haskins Laboratories.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands.


  • CASY
  • Vowel
  • articulatory synthesizer
  • color
  • cross-modal correspondence
  • synesthesia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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