The colors of a rainbow or a spectacular sunset can leave us all in a state of awe. But what if, in all that wonder, each of us is seeing different colors!? Then what exactly are we all marveling at? Turns out, our brains are easily tricked when it comes to color! So get ready to explore the depths of your perception and have a little fun with the way our brains and eyes look at reality.
To get us started, let’s take a quick trip back to 2015. It was a solid year but, if you spent much time on the internet, you were dragged into a controversy that shook communities: “Is the dress white and gold, or black and blue?”
Not familiar with this great divide? Take a look at this photo. Is the dress black and blue or white and gold?
Millions of people weighed in on this issue. Celebrities on Twitter voiced their opinions. Roommates were divided. (In my case, I was camp white and gold and my roommate was camp black and blue.) Really, it was an argument only the masses of the internet could amplify so broadly. So what does this seemingly frivolous internet fight over the color of a dress have to do with anything?
Well, it shows us how our brains perceive the world! Perception is incredibly personal. The way you and I see the world is as unique as our life experiences.
It probably won’t come as a surprise that you and I don’t see the world the same way. And that’s in part because there are factors like culture and even the time we wake up that impact how we quite literally see the world. The way we process all of the information that comes to us is altered by these frames of reference. And it even has an impact on the way we perceive color.
This was a complexity that most of us weren’t even aware of until we heard from our closest loved ones that they were seeing the world so radically different from us. So, what was going on in the great dress debate of 2015? Let’s dip into this short video from BuzzFeed to get us started.
So, now we have a general overview of what’s going on in our brains when we are “tricked” by a color illusion. But these complexities go far beyond the issue of “is it white and gold or black and blue?” With all that our brain is capable of, sometimes it can’t help but fool us.
Take a look at this next picture:
It’s from Akiyoshi Kitaoka, a Professor of Psychology at Ritsumeikan University.
What color are those strawberries? Red, right? Well, try covering up the space all around the image and taking a look at what color it actually is.
Isolated from context, the strawberries no longer appear red; they are, in fact, grey.
Sometimes just our expectations of what things should look like make us see what’s not actually there or see it completely different from our neighbor.
This is because of something called color constancy. It’s our brain’s way of keeping the color of an object looking as though it stays the same even as the lighting around it changes.
Let’s check out some more examples and dive a little deeper into the ways our brains can be so easily fooled into realities that actually don’t exist! Here’s a fascinating video from WIRED:
Looking at the world a little differently now?
So are we! It’s fascinating to think about how much our well-meaning brains confuse us. Over time, our brains have evolved to be lightning-fast processing machines. And sometimes, that confuses us!
Very often we think of our brain as a literalist: it’s analytical, it can do the math, so it must be seeing the world as it is! Well, these color illusions break that notion.
Things like how we grew up, whether we’re an early riser, our language, and our culture all have an impact on the way that we see the world. Sometimes that’s in the way we literally see things, like these pictures, and sometimes that’s in the way we process bigger and more complex problems.
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Our brain takes care of so much without us thinking. This makes the world easier for us to process, but it can also cause us to overlook things and even be easily fooled.
Perhaps delving into color illusions and determining the color of a dress or a dish of strawberries won’t unlock the secrets to world peace. But it’s certainly a great reminder that how we perceive the world can be so different from one another!
Stay beautiful & keep laughing!
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- Buzzfeed Multiplayer. “The Color Of The Dress According To Science.” YouTube, BuzzFeed Multiplayer, 27 Feb. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=I0OPNOpU6SY. ↩
- WIRED. “Why Your Brain Thinks These Strawberries Are Red.” YouTube, WIRED, 24 Sept. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJBfn07gZ30. ↩