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Why silver generation love to wear bold colours: Researchers discover our perception of colour changes as we age

By Xantha Leatham Deputy Science Editor

23:56 21 Jan 2024, updated 01:39 22 Jan 2024

  • Scientists find that colours fade as we age, especially for green and magenta 
  • The UCL study tested 17 young adults and 20 older ones and compared results 

Whether it’s Prue Leith, Helen Mirren or Mary Berry, older women often look fabulous wearing their favourite bold colours.

Now researchers have discovered that the reason some prefer brighter tones is because our perception of colour changes as we age.

By comparing how younger and older people’s eyes react to different hues, scientists found that colours effectively fade as we age.

The team, from University College London, recruited 17 young adults with an average age of 28, and 20 older ones with an average age of 64. 

Participants were placed in a blackout room and shown 26 different colours for five seconds each, while the researchers measured the diameter of their pupils. These parts of the eye constrict in response to increases in colour lightness and intensity.

Researchers from UCL have been able to figure out why we tend to gravitate towards brighter colours as we age, as Prue Leith seems to have done
Scientists found that colours effectively fade as we age, which may lead some to opt for even brighter colours
Mary Berry has sported a range of brightly colours jackets on The Great British Bake Off and has worn bright dresses as recent engagements

The colours participants were shown included dark, muted, saturated and light shades of magenta, blue, green, yellow and red, alongside two shades of orange and four greys.

READ MORE: Humans tend to go colour blind as they age, study finds 

Using an eye-tracking camera, which recorded pupil diameter at 1,000 times per second, the team found that the pupils of healthy older people constricted less in response to colour intensity compared with young adults.

The findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, revealed this was particularly marked with green and magenta.

Ms Berry, 88, sported a range of brightly coloured jackets on The Great British Bake Off, wore a bright pink dress to meet the Prince and Princess of Wales, and has also posed in a bold red skirt.

Ms Leith, 83, appears to have worn almost every bright and bold colour under the sun, while Ms Mirren usually opts for a bold outfit for red carpet appearances. 

The 78-year-old even once dyed her hair blue to match her dress.

The study is the first to use pupillometry to show that as we grow older, our brains become less sensitive to the intensity of colours in the world around us.

The findings also complement previous behavioural research showing that older adults perceive colours to be less colourful than young adults.

Dr Janneke van Leeuwen, the lead author of the study, said the work suggests that ‘colours slowly fade as we age’. She added: ‘Our findings might also help explain why our colour preferences may alter as we age – and why at least some older people may prefer to dress in bold colours.’

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