Its back. No, not this blog, but the infamous argument over #TheDress has resurfaced in the form of #TheJacket, almost a year later. If you somehow missed the internet erupting in a war over the nature of reality, have a look at the dress below and ask yourself: “Is it white and gold, or blue and black?”
The dress is, based on a shoot of Kim Kardashian, blue and black. So why do some people think it is white and gold? In a way, both of these are correct, but the ‘why’ lies in a strange intersection between visual/perceptual psychology, and the everyday quirks of modern technology.
Lets break light down. The light that we perceive (and the light we do not perceive) everyday is made up of a variety of colours along a wavelength. We’ve receptors in the retina that perceive the different wavelengths of light; ‘rods’ for perceiving black and white, and ‘cones’ for red, green, and blue (in simple terms). This visual information is sent down the optic nerve and integrated in the visual processing centres in the occipital lobes. The ‘colour’ of the light that illuminates an object we are looking at is discounted (‘subtracted’) in the brain, a process called ‘colour constancy’; this is why a white shirt looks white regardless of being under sunlight (made up of mostly reds and oranges), incandescent bulbs (which give things a yellow tint), or florescent bulbs (which give items a blueish tint). This makes a lot of sense for our brains to do, otherwise we’d constantly question if what we are perceiving is ‘real’.
In the case of The Dress, some people will discount blue light, and see brown/black; some will discount yellow light and see blue/white. So, perhaps it is due to the context in which we perceive The Dress.
Secondly, it could also be down to illumination: the blue cones in our retina are not as sensitive as others, and need twice as much light. We are all have our screens/monitors at different brightness and contrast settings, and looking at them in different light sources. As people play around, they should change how it looks to them. That said, people will find it hard to change their initial judgment of the dress; our brains don’t like our visual world switching around on us so easily, so our top-down processing tries to enforce one reality, as not to be switching between two constantly.
What of #TheJacket? It seems to be the most versatile items this Spring for your collection, being perceived by many as either blue and white, green and gold, black and brown, or green and brown.
Lets take the first pair: ‘white’ & ‘blue’.White is perceived when all the cones in our retina are activated (blue, red, and green). With the Jacket, people could be discounting red in varying amounts to see it as white and cyan (a mix of blue & green).
All the other mixes have one common factor missing: blue. People are discounting blue (in differing amounts), and seeing it in green/gold, or black/green and green/brown. Now, ‘brown’ is an interesting colour; in everyday light, ‘brown’ is a mix of red and yellow in specific amounts (no blue), and requires low light to be perceived as ‘brown’. However, to be emitted on monitors & screens, brown is a red/green mix with low light intensity; but increase the light output and and it becomes a ‘dirty gold’ or ‘yellow’. And those darker greens that under low light output can sometimes look a bit ‘black’.
The colour ‘brown’ also helpfully points out another factor involved in visual judgment: contrast effects. The image below with the white/grey squares, and the circles illustrate this.
Both circles, and the squares they are on, are the exact same colour. Don’t believe me? Use some paper to block anything else but the circle-squares themselves. When looking at the brighter ‘orange’ circle, our brains are using the shading and grey squares around it as a perceptual reference and it is perceived as ‘orange’. When the same circle is surrounded by white squares, it appears darker- almost ‘brown’. ‘Brown’ only exists in the presence of brighter contrasts; it’s perception is purely contextual, and is why we often add many adjectives to ‘brown’ (eg. ‘reddish-brown’). If you look back at #theJacket photo, you can see there is a lot of lighting around the sides of the image, and this provides a bright contrast.
So to sum up: external lighting, the light emissions from our screens/monitors (versus, say, a printed image), and the internal contrasts in an image, are all at work in how we perceive #theJacket. In fact, if we use the power of technology to emulate how our brains correct for all these things, you can see the results below:
— Monica (@heymonica_) February 27, 2016
There might be another reason we might say the Jacket is A or B, and why we argue over it; ‘group conformity‘. The initial reactions we read on the internet, and the more people we hear saying it is either A or B, the more likely our judgments of the colour will match the group’s opinion. This was shown in Solomon Asch’s work in 1956, whom asked people to make judgements about whether a line in picture A matched one of three lines in picture B. Asch planted 7 people in a group along with one subject, and asked the subject to say if the line lengths’ matched. When the majority of the group insisted the lines did not match (yet, they were identical), most subjects incorrectly reported the lines did not match- but when the subject reported their judgment alone, they got it right all the time. This isn’t just being afraid to report ‘the truth’; there is evidence to suggest this genuinely changed their perception of reality.
And we have these arguments about Dresses and Jackets, because having a shared reality of what we perceive is important. Otherwise, how would we ever agree on Jeremy Corbyn’s Holloway style?
(For the record, I see it as a weird green-blue petrol, and gold).