Emotional Resonance in Color and Black and White Photographs

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Updated on Jun 14, 2013

Grade Level: 9th to 12th; Type: Social Science


This project explores whether images in color and images in black and white have different emotional resonances.

Research Question:

Do two copies of the same photograph, one in color and one in black and white, evoke different emotions or different intensities of emotion?


  • Computer with internet access
  • Color printer
  • Paper and pencil for recording and analyzing results
  • 20 or more test subjects

Experimental Procedure

  1. Use the internet to locate a minimum of ten photographs depicting a range of emotions and intensities. For example, you might use a sad photograph of a child crying at a funeral, a disturbing photograph of a war scene, a neutral photograph of a person walking down a sidewalk, a cheerful photograph of children playing, a celebratory photograph of a baseball victory, etc.
  2. Print out two high-quality copies of each photograph, one in color and one in black and white. All prints should be of the same size and quality.
  3. Show each test subject half the photographs in color and the other half in black and white. Each color-group should contain a range of emotions. Show the subject the photographs one at a time. As you test subjects, vary which photos you show in which color-group and the order in which you show them.
  4. As the subject looks at each photo, ask her what emotion the photo evokes and to rate the intensity of that emotion on a scale of one to five with one being feeling the emotion only slightly and five being feeling the emotion intensely. Record subjects’ responses and genders.
  5. Analyze your findings. Did color or did black and white photos tend to evoke stronger or less-strong emotions? Did color or did black and white tend towards more positive or more negative emotions? Did patterns of responses differ along gender lines?

Terms/Concepts: color photography, black and white photography

References: The Emotional Significance of Color in Television Presentations

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