Is the human visual / motor system able to track, and move in response to, objects of certain colours more quickly and reliably than for others? By more reliably, I mean with greater accuracy in judging position and velocity, and with greater accuracy when moving in response.

Which colours are "most visible" in that sense, as a function of background and illumination?

This interests me specifically in the context of juggling: I like to juggle, and I wonder whether there's a difference in my response time and accuracy with different colours of balls/clubs. Usually I'm indoors, and ceilings are usually white, sometimes black or brown, with strip lighting. My only personal observations are rather obvious: dark colours can be hard to see against dark backgrounds, and white can be hard to see against white.


The answer is yes and yes. Firstly, motion cannot be processed at equiluminance. In other words if you have clubs that are equally as bright as their background you will not be able to see them move even though they are clearly visible because of a different color. It's a remarkable effect (demo link below), as you become in effect motion-blind. Obviously you notice after a while that things moved, but you don't see them move smoothly as you are used to. This is similar to what people with akinetopsia experience (had lesions to brain areas involved in motion processing). So have clubs that have clear luminance contrast to the background (very dark, or very bright).

Then there are known difference in processing latencies for different colors. More specifically yellow is processed faster than blue. And black is processed faster than white (if you consider them colors). These effect are massive, a few hundreds msec in some cases which is very long. There is also a known relationship between stimulus intensity (here color contrast) and response time, called Piéron's law. However that effect saturates at fairly low contrast so as long as you can see the clubs clearly it's unlikely there will be a difference in response time for more contrasted colors.

Finally there are discrimination differences for colors. For example yellow and orange are more easily discriminable than blue. But that's only true if you have to perceive a low contrast color difference (a yellow club on a yellow background). Here again as long as you see your clubs very clearly, it's unlikely the specific color of the clubs will make a difference.

So overall I would recommend to use clubs as contrasted as possible to the background (which is common sense). Then prefers darks to lights colors, and prefers yellows to blues. The ideal color is brown, which is in facts a dark yellow.



Komban, S. J., Alonso, J. M., & Zaidi, Q. (2011). Darks are processed faster than lights. Journal of Neuroscience, 31(23), 8654-8658.

Wool, L. E., Komban, S. J., Kremkow, J., Jansen, M., Li, X., Alonso, J. M., & Zaidi, Q. (2015). Salience of unique hues and implications for color theory. Journal of vision, 15(2), 10-10.

Witzel, C., & Gegenfurtner, K. R. (2013). Categorical sensitivity to color differences. Journal of vision, 13(7), 1-1.

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  • $\begingroup$ I know I'm not supposed to leave comments like this, but this is a really fascinating answer! Thank you! Just to make as if I'm adding some content here: having likely only one set of props at a time, I guess orange seems like a more general-purpose choice than brown, because it won't be too far from optimal whether the ceiling is white, brown or black? And if one were going all-out for optimality with two sets of props, I suppose dark brown and bright yellow? $\endgroup$ – Croad Langshan Nov 4 '18 at 21:13
  • $\begingroup$ ...or I suppose for props that are multi-coloured, you could go for bright yellow AND dark brown, all in a single club/ball :-) $\endgroup$ – Croad Langshan Nov 4 '18 at 21:16
  • $\begingroup$ You may want to mention that the reason for this is because the dorsal stream (which processes motion) is fully colorblind, and the ventral stream (which can distinguish colors at equiluminance) is incapable of processing motion efficiently. I think this is also why edges become harder to see in the linked video when motion also appears to stop (either that, or it's the fault of the crappy ancient QuickTime codec it uses). $\endgroup$ – forest Jun 19 '19 at 5:07

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