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School of Optometry and Vision Science

Ecology of Colour Vision

Ecology of Colour Vision Laboratory (ECVL)

Research Activities


Dr Vorobyev is the head of the Ecology of Colour Vision laboratory. The main theme of his research is the relationship between colour vision systems and colourful patterns of plant and animals. He uses psychophysical methods to study colour vision of man and animals. To understand the ecological significance of diversity of colour vision systems, he combines mathematical modelling with measuring spectra of biologically important objects - flowers, fruits, birds’ plumage and fish skin.

Plants often use brightly coloured flowers to advertise a reward of nectar and pollen to insects and birds that pollinate them. Birds use colourful plumage to attract mates. Similarly, colourful patterns of fish skin are used to communicate with other fish. Animals also use coloured patterns to protect themselves. A coloured pattern may help conceal or disguise an animal, or advertise that it is toxic. 

To look at objects through animal eyes, we use mathematical modelling and encode the signals of animal photoreceptors using Blue, Green and Red primaries of a computer monitor. The figure shows a fish as it is seen through the eyes of a fish. Light is absorbed and scattered in water. Therefore fish colours depend on direction and distance from which they are viewed.

While colour is described as a set of photoreceptors signals, colour perception depends on importance of a colour in a certain context and on emotional state of a human being or an animal. We model colour perception taking into account ‘high level’ processing. To establish the relationship between colour perception, context of colour and emotions we perform psychophysical experiments.

Dr Vorobyev’s work has attracted over 3960 citations (h-index: 34; 13 papers cited over 100 times each).


Available master and PhD projects:

1. Colour vision of reef fish. Reef fish uses colour for both camouflage and advertisement. The aim of the project is to reveal the relationship between colour vision of reef fish and fish colours using tropical trigger fish (Picasso fish) as a model system.

2. Colours, emotions and culture. Colours are often associated with emotions. To what degree is the association between colours and emotions is innate and determined by human biology? How does culture influence the emotional meaning of colour? To answer these questions, the candidate will study the association between colour and emotions in people from different cultural background.


3. Colour harmony. Aesthetic appeal of colours depends on how they are combined. The rules of colour combination are thought to be analogous to harmony of sounds in music and are called ‘colour harmony’. While many schemes of colour harmony have been proposed, the validity of such rules have rarely been confirmed in psychophysical experiments. The aim of this project is study the rules of colour harmony using colour stimuli presented in controlled conditions.  

3. Colour perception in colour deficient people. Approximately 6% of male population are colour deficient. Often colour deficient people do not realise that their colour perception is different from that of colour normal observers until they undergo special tests. The aim of this project is to reveal the mechanisms which allow colour deficient people to compensate for their inability to see some colours and even to be superior to colour normal people in some visual tasks.


Dr Misha Vorobyev
Building 503, Room 369
85 Park Rd,
Phone: +64 9 3737599 ext 86591
Fax: +64 9 373 7058