The Psychology of Why People See Different Colors in That Dress

The Psychology of Why People See Different Colors in That Dress

Did you know that the dress everyone is arguing about isn’t even blue and black? The fabric-patterned dress, which was recently posted on Tumblr, has been interpreted by some as having a blue background with black lace, while others see it as white and gold. We’re about to tell you exactly why this happens (trust us, you might not like it). It’s all due to something called color constancy. Click here to read our take on the science of why no one agrees with the color of this dress!


Research has shown that the sense of color is subjective and varies greatly among people. What is pink to one person may be white to another. In some cases, even the same person will see different colors at different times! This phenomenon can lead to conversations that spiral out into long arguments and even friendships ending over differences in opinion on the color of a dress. We want our friends and loved ones to agree with us on everything, but they’re not always going to see things the way we do. The best approach is probably just to enjoy talking about what we see without worrying too much about why others disagree with us. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what color this dress is – it’s a beautiful dress nonetheless!

Global Processing

It turns out that some folks see black and blue stripes, while others see gold and white stripes. This discrepancy is because color perception occurs locally on our retinas: the brain’s job is to put the scattered pieces back together, so we can more clearly perceive what an object really looks like. But a phenomenon called global processing means that our brains are doing this almost instantaneously– and thus, our personal perceptions are formed by the physical characteristics of each individual eye.

Low-level lighting effects

In nature, blue and yellow are complementary colors. This means that the more you combine blue and yellow, the more intense the yellow becomes, and conversely if you mix red with blue, it will become a very light purple. Therefore our color perception has evolved to give us quick identification of all sorts of natural things – including fruits, berries, leaves, and animals. You could even argue that clothing colors depend on what colors are next to them or what colors are against them – making it complicated to determine whether something is black or white for example. This is because colors at their respective edges both absorb and reflect light differently than when they’re right next to each other.

Stereotypes and Judgments

A more likely explanation than there being a difference between the hue, saturation, and brightness levels are that people are simply drawing conclusions based on their preexisting preferences and cultural backgrounds. Even when exposed to the same colors, we make assumptions and judgments according to our culture and its history as well as personal experience.

Interpreting Brightness Differences

To understand why people see different colors in this dress, we first need to understand the concept of perceived brightness. Psychologists typically use something called a candle test to measure how bright objects appear under different light sources. For example, if you were trying to illuminate a very dark room, you would need more candles than if you were just lighting your closet for a midnight snack. In the case of this dress, there are many possible explanations: the light bulb might not be high-enough quality or brightness; it might be an RGB LED lamp instead of an incandescent lamp; and so on.

Perceptual Constancy

Since the dress is varying shades of blue, many people are interpreting it as blue and black. The luminance contrast between the lighter areas and darker areas plays a role in how we perceive colors. Whites, grays, and yellows typically look white-ish no matter what shade they are. Blues, purples, pinks, oranges, reds, and violets typically look more like their hues when surrounded by whites.

Emotions and Feelings

People often think they see the same color when they look at the dress, but the reality is that their perceptions are completely different. This is because the part of our brain that handles memory and emotion (limbic system) is more active than the part responsible for distinguishing colors (visual cortex). So when we see something, it triggers memories or emotions based on past experiences, which colors how we see things. Take a white cane or bright orange pants as an example. If you’re not colorblind, these colors should be obvious to you. But if someone is, for example, red-green colorblind (the most common type), then they may only see shades of grey and darkness.

Culture and Experience

It’s really hard to understand why people can’t agree on what color this dress is because it seems obvious to me. But before we jump to any conclusions about the color of the dress, we need to consider that perception has a lot to do with our understanding and interpretation of the world around us. The science behind it tells us that our brains are constantly gathering information and interpreting what they see based on culture and experience.

For example, there are significant differences between how a person from Western Europe would see the color green and someone from Asia or Africa because their cultures use completely different words for that same hue.

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