Science explains the colour of ‘the dress’ 14



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Are you still baffled by the colour of the striped dress that had the world of social media agog a few months ago? Colour scientists have now weighed into the debate and think they’ve figured out why ‘the dress’ appeared to be a different colour to different people.

You might recall some of us perceived ‘the dress’ with the horizontal stripes to be blue with black lace while others got the very district impression it was white with gold lace. Amid the social media frenzy, the designer of the dress eventually stepped forward to confirm the controversial garment was actually made of blue and black fabric. At the time there were plenty of educated opinions and lighting on the original photograph was generally blamed for the varying colour perceptions.

Now the scientists have stepped in to solve the mystery – turns out the colours we saw in the dress had more to do with the colours red and green.

Perceptual psychologists from the Universities of Giessen and Bradford conducted an experiment of two groups of people who were divided on the colour of ‘the dress’, attempting to work out how they perceived colour in general. Their research results are published in the journal Current Biology.

Professor Karl Gegenfurtner from Giessen University said the reason behind the confusion about the colours of the dress is the photograph’s overall blue and yellow colouring.

Usually, people are able to unconsciously filter the effect of blue or yellow light and the result is that everyone perceives the same colours. To do that, we need reference points – colours which are located outside the so-called daylight locus. But in the case of ‘the dress’, red and green features are completely missing, so the photo does not provide relevant information on luminance levels.

“This would not have happened with a red dress,” he said.

So, there you have it. That’s why ‘the dress’ caused so much confusion. Which colours did you see?

Rebecca Wilson

Rebecca Wilson is the founder and publisher of Starts at Sixty. The daughter of two baby boomers, she has built the online community for over 60s by listening carefully to the issues and seeking out answers, insights and information for over 60s throughout Australia. Rebecca is an experienced marketer, a trained journalist and has a degree in politics. A mother of 3, she passionately facilitates and leads our over 60s community, bringing the community opinions, needs and interests to the fore and making Starts at Sixty a fun place to be.

  1. So why, when they are together in this photo we can see the differences plainly? Maybe it’s too late for me to think clearly (1.09 a.m.) but that explanation doesn’t seem to make sense at the moment!

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