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    8 years ago this dress broke the internet… it’s STILL blue and black BTW

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    A photo of a dress — now trending on every social media site as #TheDress — left the world divided. Is it white and gold? Blue and black?

    The Origin of The Dress

    The Dress first appeared on the internet on February 26, 2015, when Caitlin McNeill, a Scottish musician, posted a photograph of the dress on Tumblr. She noticed that her friends disagreed about the colors of the dress. What seemed like a simple photo quickly spiraled into a global discussion as people were divided into two main camps: those who saw the dress as blue and black, and those who saw it as white and gold.

    The Science of Color Perception

    To understand why people see different colors, we need to delve into the science of color perception. Human eyes perceive color through the interaction of light with photoreceptors in the retina, known as cones. There are three types of cones, each sensitive to different wavelengths of light corresponding to red, green, and blue.

    Lighting and Context

    One of the main reasons people see the dress differently is due to the lighting and context of the photograph. The image is ambiguous, with lighting that can be interpreted in different ways. When our brain tries to determine the color of an object, it also considers the light source and background. This process is called color constancy.

    In the case of The Dress, the lighting in the photograph is ambiguous, making it unclear whether the dress is illuminated by natural or artificial light. If someone perceives the lighting as natural, they might discount the blue light as a shadow and see the dress as white and gold. Conversely, if someone perceives the lighting as artificial, they might interpret the colors as blue and black.

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    Research and Studies

    Following the viral sensation, numerous studies were conducted to explore the phenomenon further. Researchers found that individual differences in perception could be linked to how the brain processes contextual information about lighting and shadows. Studies also indicated that people with certain personality traits or cognitive styles might be more prone to seeing the dress in one color scheme over the other.

    Individual Differences

    Apart from lighting and context, individual differences in the human visual system play a crucial role. These differences can arise from various factors, including:

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    1. Age: Younger people are more likely to see the dress as blue and black, while older individuals might see it as white and gold.
    2. Photoreceptor Distribution: The distribution and number of photoreceptors (cones) in the retina can vary from person to person, affecting color perception.
    3. Brain Processing: The brain’s interpretation of color can differ based on past experiences and expectations. Our brains are wired to make assumptions based on previous encounters with similar visual cues.

     

    One blue outfit has caused so much controversy—not since Monica Lewinsky was a White House intern. (Also, it is blue.) It’s just another Thursday, but the idea that one picture could divide the whole Internet into opposing factions is astonishing. However, for the last three hours, users on social media have been…

    It’s just another Thursday, let’s face it, that a single photograph has the power to divide the entire Internet into opposing groups. For the last three hours, however, individuals on social media have been debating whether an image purports to show a white bodycon dress with gold lace fringe or a blue one with black lace fringe. Neither side will give up. Beyond social media, at the heart of this conflict is basic biology and how human eyes and brains have developed to perceive color in a world lighted by sunlight.

    Through the lens, light can enter the eye at different wavelengths, which correlate to distinct colors. When light strikes the retina at the back of the eye, pigments cause neuronal connections to fire, sending messages to the brain’s visual cortex, translating them into an image. Crucially, though, the wavelengths that are lighting up the globe are what make up that initial flash of light, reflecting off of whatever it is you are looking at.

    Your brain determines the color of light bouncing off the object your eyes are looking at without your conscious awareness, and it effectively deducts that color from the “real” color of the object. According to Jay Neitz, a neuroscientist at the University of Washington, “Our visual system is supposed to throw away information about the illuminant and extract information about the actual reflectance.” “But I’ve studied individual differences in color vision for 30 years, and this is one of the biggest individual differences I’ve ever seen.” Neitz perceives gold and white.

    Usually, that system works just fine. This image, though, hits some kind of perceptual boundary. That might be because of how people are wired. Human beings evolved to see in daylight, but daylight changes color.

    The pinkish red of morning, the blue-white of noon, and finally the reddish twilight are the variations along that chromatic axis. Neuroscientist Bevil Conway of Wellesley College says, “What’s happening here is your visual system is looking at this thing, and you’re trying to discount the chromatic bias of the daylight axis.” “So people either discount the blue side, in which case they end up seeing white and gold or discount the gold side, in which case they end up with blue and black.” (Conway strangely sees orange and blue.)

    We asked our ace photo and design team to do a little work with the image in Photoshop, to uncover the actual red-green-blue composition of a few pixels. That, we figured, would answer the question definitively. And it came close.

    In the image as presented on, say, BuzzFeed, Photoshop tells us that the places some people see as blue do indeed track as blue. But…that probably has more to do with the background than the actual color. “Look at your RGB values. R 93, G 76, B 50. If you just looked at those numbers and tried to predict what color that was, what would you say?” Conway asks.

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    The idea is that your brain first attempts to infer a sort of color background for the picture, from which it extracts the dress’s hue. Neitz, with his peculiar white-and-gold ensemble, concedes that the clothing is most likely blue. He responds, “I printed the picture out.” After that, I ripped out a small piece and examined it. Taken out of context, it’s not this dark blue color; rather, it’s almost midway in between. My mind connects the illuminant with the blue. Some say it’s because of the clothing.”

    Even WIRED’s photo team—driven briefly into existential spasms of despair by how many of them saw a white-and-gold dress—eventually came around to the contextual, color-constancy explanation. “I initially thought it was white and gold,” says Neil Harris, our senior photo editor. “When I attempted to white-balance the image based on that idea, though, it didn’t make any sense.” He saw blue in the highlights, telling him that the white he was seeing was blue, and the gold was black. And when Harris reversed the process, balancing to the darkest pixel in the image, the dress popped blue and black. “It became clear that the appropriate point in the image to balance from is the black point,” Harris says.

    So when context varies, so will people’s visual perception. “Most people will see the blue on the white background as blue,” Conway says. “But on the black background, some might see it as white.” He even speculated, perhaps jokingly, that the white-gold prejudice favors the idea of seeing the dress under strong daylight. “I bet night owls are more likely to see it as blue-black,” Conway says.

    At least we can all agree on one thing: The people who see the dress as white are utterly, completely wrong.

    The Dress: Confirmed Colors

    Despite the debate, the actual dress is confirmed to be blue and black. The retailer, Roman Originals, even started producing a limited edition white and gold version after the viral phenomenon to capitalize on the dress’s fame.

    Conclusion

    The Dress remains one of the most intriguing examples of how human perception can vary. It serves as a reminder that our senses and brains work together in complex ways to interpret the world around us. The phenomenon of The Dress not only captivated the public but also provided valuable insights into the science of vision and perception. Whether you see it as blue and black or white and gold, The Dress will always be a testament to the fascinating intricacies of human perception.

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