Color Perception Depends Upon Illumination Assumptions

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Scientists reveal that differences in color perception is based upon the assumption about how objects are illuminated, according to a new study published in April 2017.

A team of neurologists from New York University conducted a study on the image of ‘the dress’, which went viral on social media in 2015. The aim was to study color perception in individuals based on their assumptions about how the dress was illuminated.People who thought that the dress was photographed in a shadow, saw the dress as gold and white those who assumed it was illuminated by artificial light saw the dress as black and blue.

The lead author of the study, Wallisch, said, “The original image was overexposed, rendering the illumination source uncertain. As a result, we make assumptions about how the dress was illuminated, which affects the colors we see. Shadows are blue, so we mentally subtract the blue light in order to view the image, which then appears in bright colors — gold and white.”It was further explained that if someone saw the dress to be illuminated by artificial light, which tends to be yellowish, then the dress appears to them as black and blue.

“This is a basic cognitive function: to appreciate the color on an object, the illumination source has to be taken into account, which the brain does continuously,” He addedThe results were proven by conducting an online study with over 13,000 participants, who had previously seen the image of the dress, were asked if they saw the dress in a shadow or light.

The study found that people’s beliefs as to whether the dress was illuminated or in a shadow, affected the perceptual experience of the dress. Four out of five participants who saw the dress to be in a shadow, believed it to be white and gold. On the contrary, only half of participants who did not see it in a shadow were able to see the dress to be white and gold.

The study further revealed that a person’s exposure to daylight, affected their perception of the color of the dress. The team said that those who rise and sleep early, and spend many of their waking hours in sunlight, are more likely to see the dress as white and gold than those that sleep late. Those that slept late, were more exposed to the long-wavelength artificial light than the sun and thus assumed the dress to be illuminated by the same light, perceiving it as blue and black.


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