Blue and Black or White and Gold? A Neuroscientist Tackles the Viral Dress Phenomenon
This illusion is pretty fascinating. It might actually point the way to a new discovery.
The color constancy effect has been known for a long time, and there are many illusions around that show (to the same viewer) how a colored surface can appear to be one hue or another depending on the circumstances.
There are two things that are surprising about this particular image:
- Unlike many dual-interpretation illusions, this one is really stable. People see it one way or another, and there is very little that can be done to change their perception.
- How people see it is not very affected by viewing circumstances. Two people can look at the same picture in the same light and see something completely different.
This raises two interesting questions: What is it about this particular image? And what does this say about possible differences in people’s visual systems?
Why this image?
There are a few qualities about this particular image that may explain why it is triggering a unique illusion:
- The visual system processes color at the earliest stages in two parallel neural pathways. One is a blue-yellow information channel and the other is red-green (as in red-green colorblindness). This illusion has something going on in the blue-yellow channel, it would appear. The blue-yellow channel is the oldest one, in case that matters.
- The “colors” that are the subject of debate are some of the most ambiguous colors that the brain processes. White, black, and gold are all unusually problematic for the brain for different reasons that all have to do with context. More on that later.
- Unlike a lot of illusions that show colors in the abstract, e.g. colored tiles over other colored tiles, this one shows a concrete, tangible, familiar object: a dress with texture and —> Read More