What We Learned about Color from #TheDress

#thedress_blog_blankFor a week in February, it was all everyone could talk about: why did some people see the dress as blue and black, and others as white and gold? As it turns out, colors are not universal—we are not all seeing the same color. Take a deep look into how color works, why people perceive colors differently, and how color can potentially improve (or stifle) our moods.

Why Do People See Colors Differently?

Take a trip back to high school science, and recall that color is perceived as a function of light. In the wake of the controversy over that dress, Wired explains how we see color:

Light enters the eye through the lens—different wavelengths corresponding to different colors. The light hits the retina in the back of the eye where pigments fire up neural connections to the visual cortex, the part of the brain that processes those signals into an image.

Seems reasonable enough, but as it turns out, the “colors that we think we see are always determined by how we interpret the light around us,” reports Vox. That means that what’s in the background—whether in a photo of an infamous dress, or on the walls in your home—plays a role in how we see the other colors around. Usually, color constancy will help us see colors the same way, regardless of the lighting. That is, a red book will look red at both sunrise and sunset. Sometimes—as is the case with the dress—something goes a bit awry, and people’s individual perceptions are very different from each other.

The Relationship Between Color and Mood

There is something deeply unnerving about this feeling that we are not all seeing the same color. When we admire a sunset, love a hue of paint, or choose a shirt for its “wow” color, do the people around us appreciate it the colors in the same way? Mostly, yes: while colors are seen more subjectively than objectively, the infamous dress remains an extreme example of how people see color differently, based on surroundings and light.

For all that we may be seeing colors slightly differently, science around the relationship between color and mood tells us that the colors do play a role in our mood. Wonder why fast food restaurants are usually shades of red and yellow? A design blogger points out that these colors encourage “people to get hungry and then eat quickly,” which is basically the dream for any fast food spot. For another mood-enhancer, jail cells and drunk tanks are typically painted pink since the color reputedly fosters calm.

So what mood do you want to inspire in your life? Before choosing a paint color – or even an outfit – consider what mood you want to foster in yourself and those around you. Read more about colors and mood, and consider using Mood-lites as an easy way to inject some color in your world.


Share which colors you choose when you want to be in a good mood on Twitter and Facebook.

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