#10 The Sound of Color, an interview with Prof. Karen Schloss

“The violins, the deep tones of the basses, and especially the wind instruments at that time embodied for me all the power of that pre-nocturnal hour. I saw all my colors in my mind; they stood before my eyes. Wild, almost crazy lines were sketched in front of me” wrote Kandinsky after hearing Wagner’s Lohengrin, a moment that changed his life and pushed him to desist from a promising career as a lawyer to become a Master of Modern Art.  Believed to be a synesthete, Kandinsky might have experienced sound in the form of color, shape, and movement. Prof. Karen Schloss, a faculty member at University of Wisconsin–Madison is part of a group of scientists who conducted a series of studies that confirmed what we already sense but did not have scientific proof of: whereas caused or not by synesthesia, when we listen to music, people’s emotional response can be translated into colors. Dare to accompany us in a knowledgeable interview by a committed researcher, who has devoted her professional life into studying color. Hear about her amazing findings regarding color concept association and color preference to understand how color influences our judgment and behavior. A passionate and lucid scientist, Karen Schloss’s knowledge on color mesmerizes and turns the path of discovery into an exciting venture.

Schloss Visual Reasoning Lab: schlosslab.discovery.wisc.edu

Links to supporting the Department of Psychology and the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (WID): 



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Her passion for color, has driven her to devote her professional life to studying this subject by conducting fascinating studies on color-concept-association and color preference. 

She received her BA from Barnard College, Columbia University in 2005, with a major in Psychology and a minor in Architecture and completed her Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley in 2011. In UC, Berkeley she continued as a Postdoctoral Scholar from 2011 to 2013, time, in which she worked side by side with Professor Emeritus Stephen Palmer.

She later spent three years as an Assistant Professor of Research in the Department of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences at Brown University. Here at Brown, she founded the Visual Reasoning Lab, where focusing on aesthetic color preference, she studied the influence of color on how people think, feel, and behave. Soon after, in 2016, she joined the faculty at University of Wisconsin–Madison. In 2022, she was promoted to Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology as well as the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. 

In addition, as part of the Virtual Environmental Group at UW- Madison, her lab focuses mainly on color and addresses fundamental questions on how people associate visual features (like color and shapes) with concepts, and how this associations are later used to communicate through visualizations such as graphs, maps, and diagrams. Also fascinating about her Lab is the development of Virtual Reality (VR) educational tools, that help not only to understand how colors influence judgments and behaviors in immersive virtual environments, but also help make science accessible and engaging.

She has authored and coauthored major scientific publications on the Estimation of Color Concept, associations in Color Maps, Image Statistics, Visualizations and Computer Graphics and other relevant subjects regarding Aesthetic Science such as her well-known paper, co-authored with Prof. Palmer, called “Music-color associations are mediated by emotion” published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in May 2013. She received the Steve Yantis Early Career Award from the Psychonomic Society, and her lab is supported by an NSF CAREER award on Visual Reasoning for Visual Communication.

She is a splendid and committed researcher, with stunning acquired knowledge on color.

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