We know color perception is affected by many things, from the country we grew up in, to the language we speak, our age, and even how extensive our color “vocabulary” is. In fact, what came first, color or the perception of it?
In Homer’s Odyssey, honey is green, and both iron and (perhaps more surprisingly) sheep are described as violet. The sea is “wine-dark”. There is no mention of blue. There isn’t any mention of blue in any ancient Greek texts. Did they not see the color or just lack the vocabulary to describe it?
It also doesn’t appear in ancient Chinese stories, the Icelandic Sagas, or ancient Hebrew versions of the Bible. In fact, “blue” as we know it didn’t really exist until relatively recently.
According to a study by William Gladstone (who would go on to be British Prime Minister) in the mid-19th century, the first colors to exist as words in most languages are black and white, followed by red, yellow, and green. Blue was last in every language studied.
The Ancient Egyptians, however, did have a word for blue. They were also the only ancient culture to develop a blue dye – impressive because blue doesn’t occur often in nature.
Essentially, color only exists as it is perceived by the individual, which is why “the dress” – either white and gold or blue and black, depending on who you ask – famously split the Internet.
The test asks you to identify varying shades of different colors, and where they go on the spectrum, in 10 questions. You can have a go right here, and then see how you compare.
Pretty difficult, right? According to Lenstore, out of the 2,000 people they surveyed in January 2019, the most common score was 6 out of 10 (which is indeed what I got), with 24 percent of participants getting this result.
They also found that young people were better at perceiving color than older people and that typically, women perceived color better than men, scoring 57.7 percent compared to 53.8 percent, although that changed as they got older, with men perceiving color better in the 69-80 age range.
People who spoke three or more languages performed best, with an average of 60 percent correct answers, which suggests a wider color vocabulary improves color perception. Better go get learning that rainbow thesaurus.