Why Does Everybody See This Jacket As Different Colors?

Is it blue and white, or black and gold? @ZAYNSMlND/Twitter

It’s nearly a year to the day that the white-gold/blue-black dress debacle surfaced on the Internet. In what is becoming an annual tradition, a photograph of an Adidas jacket has been causing debate over whether it is blue and white or dark green/black and gold.

The image first emerged on Twitter user ZAYNSMlND and then gained notoriety after a Tumblr post by “Poppunkblogger” with the caption “'I hate to make a new blue/black, white/gold dress meme, but my friend has this jacket and she says it’s white and blue, but I see black and brown. Please, tell me what you see.”

Andrew Richard, an illustrator at Buzzfeed, took to Photoshop (below) to analyze the colors, which appeared to show them as “teal and gold.”

 

 

However, a second photograph of, supposedly, the same jacket appears to show it is actually blue and white (above). There's also been word of an interview with the jacket's owner, ZAYNSMIND, who confirmed it was blue and white. 

But while that might explain part of the question, why does the jacket appear so differently to different people?

Much like the infamous dress, it’s likely to be a little thing called “color constancy.” Essentially, our perception of color is molded and guided by its surrounding context. Since there’s very little context in the images (often with some indeterminate lighting, as well) our brain starts to make interpretations about how the light is falling on it.

If we imagine the jacket to be lit by natural daylight or a camera flash, our perception accounts for that and we might presume the object to be darker than it is. If we imagine the jacket is in a dimly lit room, then we’d perceive it to be lighter than it actually might be. This is also true of the tone of the light – whether we presume it's a bright white flash, bluish daylight or a yellowy light bulb.

A very similar effect is demonstrated in the well-known optical illusion below. The square labelled “A” is actually the same color as the square labelled “B.” However, because our brain is thrown off by the shadow of the cylinder and the diagonal pattern, we perceive “B” as a much lighter gray than “A.”

Well, that’s as near we're going to get to a closed case. Until next year...

Image credit: Adrian Pingstone, based on the original created by Edward H. Adelson/Wikimedia Commons

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