What your brain does with colours when you are not “looking” – part 1

When I published the last post of my series The rainbow is dead…long live the rainbow! there was a great discussion in the comments section with Giuliano Bernardi, a Ph.D. student at the University of Leuven, on the use of different colour palettes in audio spectrogram visualization.

Since then Giuliano has been kind enough to provide me with the data for one of his spectrograms, so I am resuming the discussion. Below here is a set of 5 figures generated in Matlab from the same data using different colormaps. With this post I’d like to get readers involved and ask to cast your vote for the colormap you prefer, and even drop a line in the comments section to tell us the reason for your preference.

In the second post I’ll show the data displayed with the same 5 colormaps but using a different type of visualization, which will reveal what our brain is doing with the colours (without our full knowledge and consent), and then I will ask again to vote for your favourite.




A – Jet colormap


B – Gray scale


C – Linear Lightness rainbow


D – Modified heated body (linear Lightness)


E – Cube-law Lightness rainbow

4 responses to “What your brain does with colours when you are not “looking” – part 1

  1. Tricky one… The chromostereopsis effect is too strong in jet for my taste. It’s quite nice (though probably irrelevant) to see the noise, as in jet, heated_body and cube-law, partly just to know it’s not organized. The contrast in the main band seems best in jet, linear-L, and heated_body.

    All this makes me think that the best colour scheme — at least for exploring and interpreting data — is not a static scheme. It’s nice to play with the colours and the contrast, to highlight different aspects of the data. For publication, one might need to choose, and choose one to make a particular point, but for the web, I think it would be cool to have a widget one can twiddle the knobs on. So then what would that look like?…

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Matt, as usual very insightful.

      I agree there’s no one-colormap-fits-all-purposes. But there should be some “never good” colormaps. In my mind Jet would make the list, but then so far it’s at the top in the poll…..

      I like your idea of a widget, I’ll have to add it to the to-do list…

  2. Pingback: What your brain does with colours when you are not “looking” – part 2 | MyCarta·

  3. Pingback: What your brain does with colours when you are not “looking” – part 2 | MyCarta·

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