You may recall the day when a photo of a dress captured the attention of nearly everyone on social media. A debate began. What color was the dress? Some saw it as blue and black, while others saw it as white and gold. The reason people saw things differently is due to two factors. One has to do with photography, and the other has to do with genetics.
Part of the difficulty people had when attempting to identify the color of the infamous dress had to do with photography. It all started with a Tumblr user uploaded a photo of the dress. She and her friends were having an argument about what color the dress was.
The dress itself is sold by a company called ROMAN and it is listed as “Royal-Blue”. (It also comes in three other colors). Each version of the dress has black lace. So, in reality, the dress is blue and black.
The Genetic Literacy Project blog points out why some people saw blue and black while others saw white and gold. It has to do with the light in the photograph that was passed around the internet.
When we see a photo, our eyes try and correct for an imagined light source. There are no clues in the photo to tell us how to interpret the color of the light source. This poses a problem. We aren’t given enough visual information to determine if we should interpret the dress as white and gold or as black and blue. The color you saw was influenced by what your brain thought you were seeing.
23andMe notes that different people may have a differing density of the rod and cone cells in their eyes. Or, the cornea color could make people see the world a bit more yellow than blue. To learn more, they asked 25,000 of their customers to take a survey about the color of the dress.
The results showed that there is no clear genetic association that corresponds to seeing either a blue and black dress or a white and gold dress. However, they did find a small effect size genetic variant in the ANO6 gene. It is a gene that is involved in light perception.
They found a bigger association related to age. The proportion of those who saw the dress as white and gold increased up until the age of 60. After age 60, the proportion of those who saw the dress as white and gold started to decrease. People over 70 were the only group that saw more blue and black than white and gold.
So, what color is the dress in that photo? The answer might depend on your age, the amount of rod and cone cells in your eyes, or your gender. Women who were between 20 and 50 were slightly more likely to identify the dress as white and gold. Some of this might explain why you saw the dress one way and an older (or younger) relative saw it the other way.
Image by Whoa Wow Wow on Tumblr.
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