by Adam Plumer

If you ever have to remember a phone number or social security number, chances are you’ve condensed these numbers in order to think of them easily. “4152551303” turns into “415” “255” “1303”. We do this naturally in order to efficiently store information that we may need, but can we do the same thing with what we see? Do we condense the number of books in a bookshelf, or maybe the number of green things in the kitchen?

It turns out the answer is a mixture of yes and no. You won’t remember all of the green things together. However, if you have a bunch of green things that stick out, you may remember them clearer than objects that blend together. For instance, you may remember that your friend has a 1950s-style kitchen because of the mint green accents, but the rest of the house may be a blur.

The color-sharing bonus phenomenon has been well-studied over the past decades, but a few important questions remain about how it impacts visual working memory (or how much people keep active in their minds to compare objects in the environment). Do you pay attention to the like-colors more and everything else less, or does everything get a boost? Are you going to remember the mint-green accents and not the chromium handles in the 1950’s kitchen?

A group of researchers from the Netherlands, Scotland, and the US set out to explore this issue. They affirmed that the color-sharing bonus definitely gives a boost to our attention, but they also found that it helps us pay attention to everything in our field of vision. They claim that this is because we “chunk” together the like-colors, similarly to a phone number, and thus we have more attention available for everything else. So if we already know and remember that the kitchen has mint-green, we may observe the chrome handles more attentively, or see that there’s old-style gumball machine sitting on the counter.

This discovery can help in crafting presentations, because as an audience’s attention wavers, they can be brought back in when presented with a like-color arrangement. Similarly, connecting like-colors with important points can help cue an audience to observe when it’s important, and gain additional information as an added bonus.

Seeing like-colors together may also help grab your attention. If you have colors, usually in close proximity, of the same basic hue in the same field of vision, they’re more likely to grab your attention than a field of unique colors.

Color Sharing Bonus

Color Sharing Bonus

The slide above links the header text to the three big ideas. The technology that the point is talking about is directly linked to Automation, Big Data, and Communication. The audience will connect these in working memory and have more capacity for observing which companies actually use this.


Morey, C. C., Cong, Y., Zheng, Y., Price, M., & Morey, R. D. (2015). The color-sharing bonus: Roles of perceptual organization and attentive processes in visual working memory. Archives of Scientific Psychology, 3(1), 18–29. doi:10.1037/arc0000014

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