The Dress Returns: This Time With Science!

The dress (center), dimmed version (left), brighter version (right) via Tumblr

Yes, it's back. The dress. Society can't let it die just yet.

In case you missed the Internet explosion that was 'the dress,' let me explain. An unassuming woman snapped a quick photo of a dress to send to a friend. This photo, thanks to the lighting, looked blue and black to some people and white and gold to others. This caused rifts in relationships, spelled the end of friendships and split Twitter into two opposing teams: #blueandblack and #whiteandgold. The wonderful thing about this visual phenomenon was that some people could look at the photo a second time and the colors would switch.

The quantity of people that experienced the crazy that was 'the dress' gave scientists a dizzying amount of data to start toying around with. Who said fashion couldn't be educational?

The way that the dress is illuminated in the image means that the pixels are actually brown and blue—colors often associated with natural light. This ambiguity, combined with the lighting that we experience from day to day, can affect how people register the different colors. The #whiteandgold perception may have been a byproduct of spending a lot of time in natural lighting and #blackandblue a result of spending a lot of time around artificial light.

Another study also suggests that people's everyday environment may affect how they perceive the brightness of blue light. The subjects of this study picked out blue for the main color of the dress when asked to match the color on a spectrum, but it was the brightness that varied.

“The question should thus not be whether the dress is blue or white, but whether it is light blue or dark blue,” Professor Karl R. Gegenfurtner and his co-authors write. “Despite the continuous choice of matching colors, observers are consistent in calling the dress ‘white’ when their match lies above a certain brightness and ‘blue’ when it lies below.”

Michael Webster from the the University of Nevada makes an interesting point about the hazy nature of blue lighting. Living on Earth, humans are used to a blue sky lighting up our environment. This has repercussions on how our brains have developed to process blue light. If the dress was red or orange, then there probably would never have been any discrepancy over the colors that people saw.

[Via Current Biology: Asymmetries in blue-yellow colour perception..., The many colours of ‘the dress’, Striking individual differences in color perception..., Original Dress]

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