What is up with that White&Gold (or is it Blue&Black) Dress?
Most people who spend even a little time on the internet will have seen this photograph of the striped dress that has created a firestorm of debate about the true colors. This explanation from an article on the New York Times site is probably the most concise, however it is not completely understood even by eye specialists why there is such a difference in perceptions between different people viewing the same picture. Interestingly there is still a difference when the picture is printed which means that the viewing angle when looking at an electronic display versus paper does not completely explain the effect. Although not a scientific study, in a small sample size of ophthalmologists and engineers, the ophthalmologists all saw the dress as White and Gold and the engineers all saw Blue and Black.
There have been reports that the split is from 70% white and gold to 50/50 in on each side. It is possible that there may be genetic tendency to view the dress as one color or the other due to either retinal differences (the retina lines the back of the eye like film in a camera and the center of the retina is responsible for color vision) or due to differences in the brain or both. Another interesting fact is that for some people the dress changes from white and gold to blue and black which indicates some adaptation in the brain’s interpretation of the images that are formed on the retina. How Your Eyes Trick Your Mind shows a number of different optical illusions and explains some of the science behind them. In some cases MRI images will show the involvement of specific parts of the brain when people are viewing an optical illusion. The White/Gold/Blue/Black dress is a bit different than classic optical illusions in that it involves color.
In many ways we ultimately do see with our brains. For example it is well established that people can adapt to glasses that turn everything upside down. This is called perceptual adaptation. Another well known phenomenon is inattention blindness. This is an effect where when attention is focused on a specific detail a person will not see things that may be right in front of them. There is likely to be continued debate about why this particular photograph of what should be referred to simply as the “striped dress” for now creates such a large difference between viewers. For now it is nice to know that these perceptual differences are a normal part of the visual system (and whether you see it Blue&Black or White&Gold you are not right or wrong – just different).
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