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People get less bothered and more comfortable with bold colors as they age, new study suggests

The study shows how colors generate fewer sensations in the human body after people age, which is reflected in their daily choices.

People get less bothered and more comfortable with bold colors as they age, new study suggests
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Steve Johnson; Nature | Janneke E. P. van Leeuwen et al.

Every decision related to fashion feels very definite. People try to translate their lifestyles, choices and favorite colors into their fashion. However, as people grow older, the whole shenanigans of dressing up seem to matter less. They are more willing to go with bold colors. Till now, the belief was that people mature with age and the so-called "judgment" matters less. However, researchers have come up with a scientific reason for this choice. As per a recent study published in Nature, people's perception of certain colors changes as they age. However, it happens in the case of only some colors, not all.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Alexander Grey
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Alexander Grey

The study was conducted by researchers from University College London (UCL). The authors explained how colors were neither stable nor uniform sensations due to natural variations in the retinal cone and produced within humans due to different factors. The researchers' objective was to understand whether age had anything to do with this change in perception. For this purpose, the study had 17 young adults (average age was 27.7 years) and 20 healthy older adults (with an average age of 64.4). They placed all the participants in a blackout room with a highly sensitive eye-tracking camera. They then showed their subjects 26 different colors. Each color came in front of them for 5 seconds.

They used colors like magenta, blue, green, yellow, orange and red and presented to participants in different shades like dark, muted, saturated and light. It is a known fact that when pupils interact with colors, it constricts in response to the lightness or chroma (colorfulness) that appears before them. The change is so subtle that it is very difficult for the naked eye to catch it, but eye-tracking cameras are equipped to capture these movements. The camera recorded the change that happened in the pupil of every participant when they observed each color and its different shades.

The outcome that the researchers reached was that the pupils of older adults constricted less when they encountered chroma compared to younger adults. It implies that older adults are less impacted by bolder colors and do not generally give a second thought before wearing them. The constriction was most noticeable for green and magenta hues. There was no change in response when it came to lighter shades. Researchers' pupillometry data suggest that people become physiologically less sensitive to the colorfulness of their environment as they age. Moreover, these findings complement earlier behavioral research, which showed that older people sense surface colors as less chromatic (colorful) than younger people. They also added that the colors seem to fade in perception for older adults as they age. Its brightness seems to go away for them.

The lead author, Dr Janneke E. P. van Leeuwen, believes that the study puts into question the long-held belief by the researchers that color perception does not change with age. He added, "Our findings might also help explain why our color preferences may alter as we age – and why at least some older people may prefer to dress in bold colors," per the University College London website. The team asserts that this change happens due to the alteration occurring in the primary visual cortex of the brain. The primary visual cortex feels less sensitivity towards colorfulness as individuals age and does not let the retinas get impacted by it.

This phenomenon was also noted in individuals suffering from a rare form of dementia called posterior cortical atrophy (PCA). Here, also the brain sensitivity of individuals declined towards some colors. "Our findings could have wide implications for how we adapt fashion, décor and other colors 'spaces' for older people, and potentially even for our understanding of diseases of the aging brain, such as dementia," Professor Jason Warren added. "People with dementia can show changes in color preferences and other symptoms relating to the visual brain – to interpret these correctly, we first need to gauge the effects of healthy aging on color perception. Further research is therefore needed to delineate the functional neuroanatomy of our findings, as higher cortical areas might also be involved."

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