Color discrimination and color preferences in Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)


Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) have been known for a long time to have color vision identical to humans (Grether in J Comp Psychol 29(2):167–177, 1940b; Jacobs et al. in Vis Res 36(16):2587–2594, 1996). With this study, we wonder if chimpanzees, as humans, show preferences for some colors rather than others. During a first range of experiments, we test their ability to discriminate all the colors from our set, through easy matching-to-sample tasks. The seven chimpanzees that participate in this first test show the results we can expect from chimpanzees with normal color vision. Then, six of them are tested for preferences. This range of experiments results in the existence of consistent tendencies across all the trials and situations, as chimpanzees would mostly first choose some particular colors, and conversely choose last different colors. Although the results for color discrimination are identical for all the seven chimpanzees, preference tests demonstrate four different tendencies. This study is the first step toward broader experiments, including more chimpanzee subjects, but also different species, with the only requirement of being trained to the basic use of a touch panel interface.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA

Subscribe to journal

Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.

US$ 99

This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7





Japanese Paint Manufacturers Association


  1. Adams RJ (1987) An evaluation of color preference in early infancy. Infant Behav Dev 10(2):143–150

  2. Franklin A, Gibbons E, Chittenden K, Alvarez J, Taylor C (2012) Infant color preference for red is not selectively context specific. Emotion 12(5):1155–1160

  3. Grether WF (1940) A comparison of human and chimpanzee spectral hue discrimination curves. J Exp Psychol 26(4):394–403

  4. Grether WF (1940b) Chimpanzee color vision. I. Hue discrimination at three spectral points. J Comp Psychol 29(2):167–177

  5. Hurlbert AC, Ling Y (2007) Biological components of sex differences in color preference. Curr Biol 17(16):R623–R625

  6. Jacobs GH, Deegan JF, Moran JL (1996) ERG measurements of the spectral sensitivity of common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes). Vis Res 36(16):2587–2594

  7. Kaneko T, Sakai T, Miyabe-Nishiwaki T, Tomonaga M (2013) A case of naturally occurring visual field loss in a chimpanzee with an arachnoid cyst. Neuropsychologia 51(13):2856–2862

  8. Maier MA, Barchfeld P, Elliot AJ, Pekrun R (2009) Context specificity of implicit preferences: the case of human preference for red. Emotion 9(5):734–738

  9. Matsuno T, Kawai N, Matsuzawa T (2004) Color classification by chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in a matching-to-sample task. Behav Brain Res 148(1–2):157–165

  10. Matsuzawa T (1985) Colour naming and classification in a chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes). J Hum Evol 14:283–291

  11. Matsuzawa T (1990) Form perception and visual acuity in a chimpanzee. Folia Primatol 55(1):24–32

  12. Miyabe-Nishiwaki T, Kaneko T, Sakai T, Kaneko A, Watanabe A, Watanabe S et al (2014) Intracranial arachnoid cysts in a chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes). Primates 55(1):7–12.

  13. Nunn CL (1999) The evolution of exaggerated sexual swellings in primates and the graded-signal hypothesis. Anim Behav 58(2):229–246

  14. Palmer SE, Schloss KB (2010) An ecological valence theory of human color preference. Proc Natl Acad Sci 107(19):8877–8882

  15. Terao K, Mikami A, Saito A, Itoh S, Ogawa H, Takenaka O et al (2005) Identification of a protanomalous chimpanzee by molecular genetic and electroretinogram analyses. Vis Res 45(10):1225–1235

  16. Wells DL, McDonald CL, Ringland JE (2008) Color preferences in gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). J Comp Psychol 122(2):213–219

Download references


We thank S. Hirata, M. Tomonaga, I. Adachi, M. Hayashi for their help and guidance in this study development. We thank PRI staff for their support and work in the experiments and everyday care of the chimpanzees. This study was financially supported by Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research from JSPS #24000001, #16H06283 and LGP-U04 to T. Matsuzawa and Core-to-Core Program A. Advanced Research Networks “Comparative Cognitive Science Network”

Author information

Correspondence to Camille H. M. Pene.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

The research proposal for the project “Studies on sequential learning, memory, and language comprehension in chimpanzees” was approved by the Animal Welfare and Animal Care Committee of Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University (Nos. 2015-063). All procedures adhered to the Japanese Act on the Welfare and Management of Animals.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary file1 (WMV 4786 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Pene, C.H.M., Muramatsu, A. & Matsuzawa, T. Color discrimination and color preferences in Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Primates (2020).

Download citation


  • Chimpanzees
  • Pan troglodytes
  • Color perception
  • Color preference
  • Touch panel