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Sounds & Colors

January 11, 2012

Like humans, chimpanzees associate high-pitched sounds with bright colors and low-pitched sounds with dark colors.



The color of sound…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

(SFX: Low-pitched sound and high-pitched sound)

What colors come to mind when you hear low and high-pitched sounds? Studies have shown that most of us associate low-pitched sounds with dark colors and high-pitched sounds with bright colors. Now, scientists have discovered that our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees, do this too. Cognitive neuroscientist Vera Ludwig of Humboldt University in Berlin led the study. Her team had both humans and chimpanzees sort white and black squares on a computer screen while listening to low or high-pitched sounds. 

VERA LUDWIG (Humboldt University, Berlin):

Humans perform worse when the sound doesn’t match the color and in chimpanzees, we found the same effect, so therefore we conclude that chimpanzees have this association between higher-pitched sounds and brighter colors.


The findings suggest that the phenomenon evolved much earlier than previously thought. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.