It has divided celebrities across the world, a simple picture of a dress at a wedding has sparked a great debate and even caused Taylor Swift to be confused and scared.
The debacle started when Caitlin McNeill, a 21-year-old singer from Scotland, posted a picture of the dress on Tumblr, and noticed that people could not agree on the colour. The picture went viral, and caused celebrities to add to the debate, with Kim Kardashian asking her 29.4million Twitter followers to settle a difference of opinion between her and husband Kanye West. Kim tweeted that she saw white and gold whilst hubbie saw blue and black.
The actual colour of the dress is blue and black, but why were so many people seeing white and gold?
Scientists may have the answer. They say that when light enters the eye it goes through the lens, and different wavelengths correspond to different colors. When this light reaches the retina at the back, certain pigments then send neural connections to the visual cortex. The brain then processes those signals into an image.
The important part of this process however is the first burst of light that enters the eye. These are the wavelengths of light that surround the rest of your world, and reflect off what you are looking at. Your brain automatically figures out what color light is bouncing off the object you are looking at, and subtracts that color from the “real” color of the object.
However, humans are programmed to see images in daylight, and this daylight changes colour. There is the pinkish red of dawn, the blue-white of noontime, and then the reddish tinge of twilight.
“What’s happening here is your visual system is looking at this thing, and you’re trying to discount the chromatic bias of the daylight axis,” says Bevil Conway, a neuroscientist who studies color and vision at Wellesley College. “So people either discount the blue side, in which case they end up seeing white and gold, or discount the gold side, in which case they end up with blue and black.”
So why we are seeing a different colour is down really to an optical illusion. The real key is in how we see the background colour. So those who see a darker background will probably view the dress as blue and black, whilst those who see a lighter background will think the dress is white and gold.
Optician Ali Waugh explained: “We perceive colours according to ambient light and surrounding background colours, and what colours we have been focussed on previously.
“That’s why it may look one colour to you initially and then the other at a later stage. It all depends on what you have been looking at prior.”
Ultimately the dress has been proven to be blue and black, so those seeing white and gold were mistaken.