The Dress: Scientists looking for reasons behind asymmetries in color perception

In February, we saw the blue or white debate taking the world by storm after two friends posted an image of a dress asking the people on the internet to tell what colors the dress had. They took the step as they had different opinions about the dress’s color.

The confusion refused to cease as some people saw the dress as a black and blue piece of garment and others said that they were seeing it as a white and gold garment. Here, it must be mentioned that the image in question is widely referred to as “The Dress”.

Now, scientists are trying to explain the reason behind these asymmetries in color perception.

The majority of us are aware of the term “optical illusion”. Often we see images uploaded on blogs and social networking sites that contain two different pictures, which are visible from different angles. However, none of those images created as much buzz as The Dress.


Bevil Conway of Wellesley College MA and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) said that The Dress is the first image to showcase that different people can see completely different sets of colors in a single image. This is probably the reason this image has become more popular than any other image containing elements of optical illusion.

A team of researchers under Conway carried out a study for demonstrating how our perceptions about the colors of The Dress differ. The team conducted a survey on 1,401 individuals. Out of these people, 300 were seeing the picture for the first time. Each participant was asked to name the colors. The results they got revealed significant disparity in the color perception of the participants.

  • For 57%, it was a black and blue dress
  • For 30%, it was a white and gold dress
  • For 11% it was a blue and brown dress
  • For 2%, the dress had some other colors

Another important fact put forward by the survey was that the color perception of people tends to vary by gender and age. For the majority of the older individuals and women, it was a white and gold dress; for younger people, on the other hand, it was mostly a black and blue dress.

To explain the possible reasons behind these asymmetries in color perception, Conway said that the difference might be a result of our brain’s expectations of light. She added that people seeing The Dress in white and gold might be the ones who spend a lot of time in natural daylight, whereas people seeing The Dress in black and blue are probably people who need to spend maximum time in artificial light.