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We here at SciShow love us when you ask us questions, so we'll have things to talk about,
and we get lots of great ideas that way. But then sometimes, something weird happens on
the internet, and our twitter feed becomes completely unmanageable because the WHOLE
WORLD is confused!
This dress...what? What?!
To me, it is 100% without a doubt clearly and absolutely white and gold.
And according to this Buzzfeed poll that over two million people have taken, I am in the
majority...and the majority is wrong.
I’m Hank Green, and this is a very weird special edition of Scishow News.
The dress is actually blue and black, and a lot of people see it that way as well.
The difference between these groups of people probably isn’t about rods and cones and
how sensitive your eyes are, or whether you’ve spent too much time staring at the sun, as
some people have suggested. It’s more likely simply a matter of your brain’s interpretation
of the data your eyes are sending.
The picture has just awful white balance, messing up the colors of the dress. White
balance is just the process that photographers -- or … people who make videos for a living
-- use to remove the influence of lighting on colors being captured, fixing it so that
things that appear white in person also appear white in the image. Using that “true white”
as the baseline, all of the other colors should also fall into place, so that they look natural,
If you just pull the colors out of the picture and blow them up, it's neither white and gold
or blue and black; it's kinda muddy, dingy purple and orange.
So the amazing things is that no one...NO ONE! sees the dress as the color it’s actually
portrayed in the picture.
Our brains are super good at interpreting images and making sense of them even when
they aren’t accurately represented. We can look at a browned, faded old photograph from
the 70s and understand what the colors beneath all of that degradation are. Sometimes we
enjoy doing that so much we use instagram filters that actually intentionally mess up
our pictures.
Here’s the weird thing...colors are never really themselves. Depending on the light
source, white can actually look to our eyes like blue or orange or gray -- pure white
is very uncommon.
Lighting, whether it’s the sun or halogen, incandescent, or fluorescent lights, change
the colors of the things they illuminate. Our brains are great at perceiving the original
colors underneath rather than the color that the eyes are actually seeing. If we couldn’t
do this, the world would be hugely confusing to us. We'd think things were changing color
all the time instead of just the light changing color.
Cameras have to figure out what “white” is based on something in the image and then
interpreting the rest of the image based on what it decided “white” was. Here in the
studio, we use this little card so that we can make sure we’re balancing correctly
and my skin doesn’t look all green and gross.
In the case of this miraculous photo of a dress, the camera did a terrible job of finding
the white balance. So terrible that it’s actually hit a weird threshold between how
different people understand the image. Some brains see the “white” in the image as
the light color, making the darker color gold; other brains see the image as washed out,
with no white at all, so the dress is blue and black.
Now the dress can’t be seen both ways simultaneously, so whichever way your brain is more comfortable
seeing it becomes the super obvious and objectively true way to perceive it.
And this is what it really comes down to: perception. Our brains make trillions of little
subconscious decisions like this every day, but usually all humans make pretty much the
same ones. This image is just really great at being in between two different potential
Why some people see it one way and not the other, could be a function of any number of
things, objectively, like, I'm not comfortable with any of the proposed hypotheses because
none of them have had any science done on them because we've known about this for like
twelve hours.
But what's driving all the chatter online, is that people have chosen up sides. Some
people are on team gold/white and others are on team black/blue. They answer polls, and
they argue with each other in the comments and like, "STOP SEEING WHAT I DON'T SEE!"
That’s because the whole thing is really an exercise in the study of perception, and
psychologists will tell you that perception is largely about bias.
And your biases can be framed by things like expectation -- if you first saw the picture
on some facebook share, with your friend saying "How can people not see that this dress is
white and gold?!" then your expectations were already set, and you are more apt to see it
as a white and gold as well.
And of course, we cherish our biases. So once you've seen the dress as black and blue, it
gets increasingly hard with time to UN-see it that way -- especially the more people
you're arguing with.
So the deeper truth is the one that we’re least comfortable accepting: perception of
reality is not the same thing as reality. Our brains are good at interpreting the world
around us, but they are certainly not perfect. And we should be more comfortable with the
idea that different people perceive things differently. And once that perception happens,
it’s as real to them as our’s is to us.
Thanks for watching this very weird episode of SciShow News. If you want to keep getting
smarter with us, you can go to YouTube.com/scishow and subscribe.
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The Science of That Dress

1269 Folder Collection
Michael Ip published on March 5, 2015
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