Brain and Body

The Color Pink Doesn’t Actually Exist

October 9, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

A splash of pink paint
Photo credit: JC/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

If your favorite color is pink, you’re in for some bad news — it’s not a real color.

In fact, all we’re seeing is white light without the green part of the spectrum, but our brains perceive this as pink. The way the brain perceives color is truly a strange phenomenon, but it’s something that surrounds us every day so its intricacy goes underappreciated. In fact, color can evoke emotions, affect the choices we make, and determine our moods. So what are some of the most peculiar ways in which color influences the world we live in?

SEE ALSO: The People Who Can See Invisible Colors

Red is perhaps the most powerful color of all. Studies have shown that men find women dressed in red more irresistible than any other color, and red’s role as a powerful attractant held true from the United States to Burkina Faso. The research led the team to believe that red “may operate as a lingua franca in the human mating game.”

Intriguingly, the color blue may have more calming effects than we realize — the installation of blue lights at Japanese train stations has proven to reduce the amount of suicides committed by jumping in front of trains. Pink too has calming effects. Researchers have found that splashing pink on the walls of prison facilities and mental health wards can calm rowdy prisoners and patients.

But blue might not have even existed until modern times, and in some places, it still might not truly exist. How can that be? It all boils down to language and how words, in fact, help us see colors. Blue was never mentioned in ancient literature, like Hindu Vedic hymns, the Koran, and Homer’s The Odyssey. Our ancestors still saw the sky and the sea, so why was blue never mentioned?

It turns out that, since there wasn’t a word for “blue,” people might not have really seen it. In certain parts of the world today, there still isn’t a word to distinguish between green and blue. A researcher named Jules Davidoff decided to travel to Namibia to conduct an experiment with the Himba tribe, whose language has no distinction between blue and green. When tribe members were shown a picture of 11 squares, one which was blue and the rest green, they couldn’t tell the difference. The few who could pinpoint the blue square still took much longer and made less sense in figuring it out than would seem normal to those who recognize the color.

Interestingly, the tribe has multiple words for different shades of green, so when shown a picture of 11 green squares, one with a subtly different hue, they could identify it instantaneously. For us, the difference would be extremely difficult to spot.

Color is indeed a wonder of the world. How are we sure that what we see as purple is what everybody else is seeing as purple? Is there an extraordinary color that currently goes unnoticed because we don’t have a word for it?

For more fascinating information about color perception, read about the women who can see thousands more colors than the common human.

Or check out this MinutePhysics video that explains why pink doesn’t really exist:


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