Karen Braun, color scientist for PARC, A Xerox Company

Color is subjective, as the Internet has proven again this week with the well-publicized ruckus over a simple dress.

Our visual systems are all different, including the number and arrangement of rods and cones in our retinas, the yellowing of our lens with age, and the complicated wiring in the brain.

Color deficiency, or color blindness, affects almost 10 percent of the male population in the U.S., and about one percent of females. Most of those people can still perceive color, but with less variation from the rest of the population, and the colors look different.

That said, the dress is blue and black. Here’s proof.



This is the home page of the seller, obviously enjoying a little free publicity.

Using Adobe Photoshop’s AutoLevels tells us that:



The black has a gold appearance for two reasons. First the image is over-exposed. The histograms below show the number of pixels that have each color level of red, green, and blue:























You can see that there are no pixels with low values of red and green values (on the left of the chart). This can happen when the lighting is unnatural, as it probably was in the store where the dress was photographed. Photoshop corrects this when one chooses AutoLevels, as in the right-hand image above.

The second reason is that the black material is shiny and therefore reflecting some of the warm light of the store.

The dress does not look white to me, especially considering the white and black dresses showing in the lower left of the picture. Perhaps the explanation for why some people see it this way, besides the aforementioned differences in human vision, is that a wide range of colors can look neutral depending on context and surrounding colors. We tend to judge the colors of everything we see, based on what we perceive as white — usually the color of the lighting.

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