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Blue Dress Revisited

 The blue dress phenomenon has produced some surprising research findings, and research continues today.  

| BY Kent McDill

 In late February of 2015, the social media world went bonkers over a photograph of a blue-and-black dress.

Or was it white and gold?

The photograph which appeared on hundreds of social media websites and was forwarded all across the world prompted arguments as to what the photograph showed. Even when two people peered at the exact same copy of the photograph, one would see a blue dress and one would see a god one.

This dichotomy of perception raised all kinds of neurological questions, which promoted numerous answers, including details about how humans see things, how they perceive things, and how the color spectrum affects our vision.

The blue dress conundrum also prompted a great deal of research which continues today. In July, the Journal of Vision, an online peer-reviewed scientific research site discussing all aspects of the human vision, will publish a special edition titled “A Dress Rehearsal for Vision Science”.

Neuroscientists at Wellesley College and academics in the department of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT worked together to test 1,400 respondents who looked at the dress under identical conditions. The results determined that 57 percent saw the dress as blue and black, 30 percent saw it as white and gold, and approximately 10 percent said it was blue and brown. Another 10 percent could switch their vision to see it between any of the aforementioned combinations.

Their research showed that older viewers and women were more likely to see the dress as white and gold. Also, it was discovered that the dress looked white and gold when seen under a blue-biased lighting, and was seen as blue and black under a yellow-tinged lighting system.

In an article written for Slate.com, Pascal Wallisch, a psychology and neuroscience instructor at New York University, discussed much of the work being done to determine just what the blue dress meant.

Initially, reaction from the scientific community noted that the human being sees color and that color effects the wavelengths of light bouncing off of objects and picked up by our visual receptors. The actual color of the object combines with the color of the light source to determine what we see. Our brain does some interpreting of light, so that items are seen at night as the same color as they are seen during the day in order to provide “color constancy” even though the light source changes dramatically.

But none of that explains why two people seeing the same photo standing together would see different colors. According to Wallisch, a viewer’s perception played into the color of the dress, as viewers interpret shadows or brightness of light, and even consideration of the dress’s material, then shift their perception of the color of the dress accordingly. That’s why two people looking at the same item can see different colors, because their perceptions are different.

But Wallisch also suggested the time of day relative to the time the dress was seen could be a cause of different interpretation. He claimed that early risers, which he calls “larks”. Are exposed to more short-wavelength (blueish) natural light, while late-waking owls experience more artificial, long-wavelength (yellow) light. Therefore, a lark and an owl will have difference perceptions of a photo as they base their interpretation on what they are accustomed to, and that could affect the perception of the color of the dress. Larks would see the dress as white and gold, owls would see black and blue, in contrast to the color of the light they are more exposed to.

Wallisch conducted an experiment with readers of Slate, asking them to identify themselves as early-risers or late-risers, then asking them to identify the color of the dress. The roughly 8,000 responses bore out his hypothesis.

There was no pattern based on the time of day of the viewing, nor whether the person grew up or lived in an urban setting or a rural one.

Research showed that people viewing the photo of the dress online were affected by screen size. The larger the screen, the more likely the person was to see the dress as white and gold.

 



About the Author


Kent McDill

kmcdill@spectrem.com

Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for www.nba.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.

In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.

McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.

McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy  Buffett and all things Disney.