Arthur J. Clark Ed.D.

Dawn of Memories

How and Why Color Matters in Early Recollections

The first memories of life emerge in color for only a minority of people

Posted Jul 21, 2015

When eliciting early recollections as a projective technique, about 1 of 6 people spontaneously make reference to color in their remembrances. If individuals are cued or prompted to recall the presence of color in their memories, reports of chromatic recollections jump to about 1 out of 3. With a minority of persons experiencing color in first memories, the appearance of color would seem to have a special meaning. In my experience, individuals who perceive color in their early remembrances have an orientation to color in their lives. These persons may be considered "color-minded," as they often find the sensation of color gratifying and emotionally uplifting. Seeking out color in their surroundings is quite familiar to the color-minded, often on a daily basis. Gazing at a garden through a window or finding a splash of color in an object provide comforting moments.

Universally, color contributes to the wonder and richness of the human condition. At the same time, color-minded persons have an asthetic sensitivity to color that is especially compelling. These individuals typically have an artistic inclination and an appreciation of art; yet, the color-minded are not necessarily artistically talented. As a fundamental way of perceiving life, color is alluring and finds expression in a variety of ways on an everyday basis.For individuals with an orientation to color, chromatic sensations are frequently inspirational and even indispensible. There is a yearning to seek out color in natural and built environments with captivating hues.Color has a potential to be mood-enhancing, invigorating, and energizing for the color-minded. Conversely, the clashing of colors or the absence of color can evoke distressful or hollow feelings 

For those people who do not have an orientation to color in their early memories and in life, colors can at times be taken for granted, and the color-minded serve to remind us to appreciate and tune into this human endowment.On a personal basis, all of my first memories are achromatic, but my wife's remembrances are replete with color. Marybeth often alerts me to various colors in our surroundings and points out the vitality of colors to me in ways that enrich my life. Also, even though I have little interest in colors in my attire, at least now I don't embarrass myself as often when wearing clothes that clash in color.

Years ago, Paul, a middle school art teacher, shared one of his early recollections with me. In walking from room to room in his grandmother's old house, Paul visualized multiple colors in the furnishings, carpets, and wall coverings. Paul experenced feelings of delight as he recalled the memory from his early childhood. As a teacher,  Paul's classroom was full of student projects that burst with colors. Often Paul showed up at work with vivid color-coordinated apparel that I can still remember years later. From time to time, Paul regaled faculty lunch groups with stories about how he was redecorating his home for the 5th or 6th time, and he spoke of the bounty of colors in his garden. Through his love for colors, Paul reminded us all of the existence of color that is is enriching to the human spirit.