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Is this shoe pink or gray? & Science of ‘the Dress’. Eye expert explains viral photo

shoe

Some see the footwear as pink with white laces and trim. Others see a gray shoe with teal accents.

Why do we see the distinct colors so differently?

To see color, our brains take into account the color of the light around the object in question, said Wally Thoreson, professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

People who see a pink shoe see a blue light in the background. People who see a gray shoe are being told by their brains that the light is white. In the case of this image, our brain is also taking cues from the color of the hand holding the shoe. And some people may have subconsciously factored in that shoelaces are typically white, Thoreson added.

The difference in perception is not uncommon, he said. For example, his wife wears a coat that Thoreson says is orange, but she says is red. The case of the shoe is a more extreme example, he said.

“We see it as one or the other, not in between,” Thoreson said. “The brain has to sort of choose. I think people are surprised that what they see is not necessarily what their neighbor sees.”

More than 450,000 people have weighed in on the color on Buzz Feed. About 87 percent were in favor of the gray version as of midday on Friday.

But the minority is likely correct. It’s unclear where the photo first surfaced, but the trending Vans footwear appears to be sold online in Europe — and it’s pink.

A Vans customer service representative familiar with the viral shoe told The World-Herald that the company doesn’t stock a gray and teal shoe, but you could customize a shoe in those colors.

If you’re in the gray and teal camp, that’s OK. (Thoreson is right there with you.) There’s nothing wrong with your eyes.

“It doesn’t mean that somebody’s vision or color perception is better,” Thoreson said.

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researchers have studied the phenomenon scientifically.

Their findings, detailed on May 14 in the journal Current Biology, suggest the difference in perceived color has to do with how the brain perceives colors in daylight.

It’s been well-documented that people can see shapes and colors differently, but “the dress” is perhaps one of the most dramatic examples of a difference in color perception, the researchers said.

“By studying the pair of colors in ‘The Dress,’ we can answer the age-old question: Do you see colors the way that I see them? And the answer is sometimes ‘no,'” Bevil Conway, a neuroscientist who teaches at Wellesley College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in a statement

But until now, the effect had not been documented scientifically.

Color constancy

In one study, Conway and his colleagues asked 1,401 people (313 of whom had never seen the image of the dress before) what color they thought the garment was. Of those surveyed, 57 percent described the dress as blue/black, 30 percent described it as white/gold, 11 percent as blue/brown and 2 percent as something else. Some people reported their perception of the colors flipped after being tested again.

According to Conway’s team, the differences in color perception are probably due to assumptions the brain makes about the illumination of the garment so that it will appear the same under different lighting, a property known as color constancy.

People who saw the dress as a white-gold color probably assumed it was lit by daylight, so their brains ignored shorter, bluer wavelen+gths. Those who saw it as a blue-black shade assumed a warm, artificial light, so their brains ignored longer, redder wavelengths. Those who saw the dress as a blue-brown color probably assumed neutral lighting, the researchers said.

Interestingly, older people and women were more likely to see the dress as white and gold, as opposed to blue and black. This could be because older people and women may be more likely to be active during the day, while younger people and men may be more likely to spend time around artificial light sources, the researchers said.

Daylight vs. artificial light

Another group of researchers, at Giessen University in Germany and the University of Bradford in England, showed the dress to 15 people on a well-calibrated screen under controlled lighting, and had them adjust the color of a disc on the screen so it matched that of the dress and its trim.

Rather than seeing the color of the dress itself as either white or blue with gold or black trim, the participants reported seeing a spectrum of shades from light blue to dark blue, with yellow/gold to dark brown/black trim, the researchers found. Nonetheless, when the dress color was a certain brightness, the participants deemed it “white,” and when it was below that brightness, they called it “blue.”

The researchers found that the colors people reported are the same colors found in daylight — which tends to be bluish at noon and yellowish at dawn or dusk — in agreement with Conway’s team. As such, the phenomenon would not have happened if the dress had been red, they said.Advertisement

A new property of color

A third study, conducted by researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno, recruited 87 college students and asked them to name the colors of the dress. About the same number of participants reported seeing it as white/gold as blue/black (a small percentage saw different colors).

Then, the researchers inverted the image so that the lighter stripes appeared gold and the darker stripes appeared blue. Now, nearly 95 percent of the participants reported seeing the lighter stripes as “vivid yellow.” The researchers confirmed these findings in another group of 80 participants.

“We discovered a novel property of color perception and constancy, involving how we experience shades of blue versus yellow,” the researchers wrote in the study.

People are much more likely to perceive a surface as white or gray if the amount of blue varies, compared with similar changes in the amount of yellow, red or green, they added.

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