When the illumination falling on a surface changes, so does the reflected light. Despite this, adult observers are good at perceiving surfaces as relatively unchanging – an ability termed colour constancy. Very few studies have investigated colour constancy in infants, and even fewer in children. Here we asked whether there is a difference in colour constancy between children and adults; what the developmental trajectory is between six and 11 years; and whether the pattern of constancy across illuminations and reflectances differs between adults and children. To this end, we developed a novel, child-friendly computer-based object selection task. In this, observers saw a dragon’s favourite sweet under a neutral illumination and picked the matching sweet from an array of eight seen under a different illumination (blue, yellow, red, or green). This set contained a reflectance match (colour constant; perfect performance) and a tristimulus match (colour inconstant). We ran two experiments, with twodimensional scenes in one and three-dimensional renderings in the other. Twenty-six adults and 33 children took part in the first experiment; 26 adults and 40 children took part in the second. Children performed better than adults on this task, and their performance decreased with age in both experiments. We found differences across illuminations and sweets, but a similar pattern across both age groups. This unexpected finding might reflect a real decrease in colour constancy from childhood to adulthood, explained by developmental changes in the perceptual and cognitive mechanisms underpinning colour constancy, or differences in task strategies between children and adults.
Wedge-Roberts, R., Aston, S., Beierholm, U., Kentridge, R., Hurlbert, A., Nardini, M., & Olkkonen, M. (2023). Developmental changes in colour constancy in a naturalistic object selection task. Developmental Science, 26(2), Article e13306. https://doi.org/10.1111/desc.13306