Dress Colors Revealed

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The Dress
  • The Dress
It’s likely that by now someone has asked you if the dress is black and blue or white and gold.

If not, here’s the short version of what's up. Someone posted a picture of a dress on Tumblr yesterday (left) and asked the internet to help discern whether the dress was blue and black or if it was white and gold. And, as it does in very serious matter like this, the internet exploded.

Fortunately, Memphis is home of the Southern College of Optometry [SCO], which is the home of Dr. Patricia Cisarik. She has both a Doctor of Optometry and a Ph.D. in Physiological Optics and Vision Science, teaches optics at SCO, and is considered a "color expert." 
Cisarik
  • Cisarik


She says color constancy is at play here. The key word in the question of “what colors are the dress?” is “colors.”

“Color is a percept, or an interpretation based on the information the brain receives,” Cisarik said. “Because human brains are built similarly, if we receive the same visual information, for the most part our interpretations of the information are similar (but not exact).

“So, when viewing a patch of grass on a bright sunny day, those of us without a congenital color vision anomaly or an acquired problem affecting the normal perceptual process would say that the grass looks 'green'. But, does each person perceive that green exactly the same?”


Examples of changes via color constancy.
  • Examples of changes via color constancy.


She said several factors influence the colors we see — everything from the wavelengths of objects (like the dress) and the things around those objects, to lighting, and even medications taken by the viewer.

But it really comes down to personal interpretation, she said.

“Finally, to understand, without actually seeing the dress in person and without having read a description of the dress, why some individuals initially interpret the colors of the dress in the picture as ‘white and gold,’ while other individuals initially interpret the colors of the dress in the picture as ‘blue and black’ is not likely to be discoverable with any technology available today (to my knowledge). If all other conditions are the same between the two viewers, then the initial colors perceived are likely to be largely influenced by what he/she (unconsciously) expects to see.”

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