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Why can't people agree about this shoe color?

Take a look at the image below of this sneaker. What do you see? A gray sneaker with mint green laces, or a mauve sneaker with white laces? People are divided and there have been a myriad of explanations with this and the famous "gold dress."

Is this a white or mauve sneaker?
People look at this image at the same time, on the same electronic device, and are flummoxed that the other person sees completely different colors from what they see.

How can this be? Don't our eyes see color the same way? Is your blue my red? Is my ability to see color poor?

The answer probably lies in our brain's ability to modify the colors in order to fit the surrounding color tone rather than our anatomy or retinal function. Meanwhile, an astounding 1 in 8 men have some degree of color sensing deficit. But even people with normal color vision perceive the shoe to be a different color.

The retina forms the inner lining of the eye. While rods provide black and white vision in dim light, it is the central cones that provide not only our detail vision, but our color vision as well. And we have only three types of cones that detect colored light - blue, green and red. It is the combination of what those three different cones perceive that allow us to see millions of colors.

cone color and wavelength absorption

Interestingly, the cones are on the outside of the retina, so light has to travel through the retina to reach their photopsin proteins that sense color. Once light strikes the photopsins, they are spent and have to be recycled, which is conveniently and efficiently done in healthy retinas, where the nourishing molecules percolate through the retinal pigment epithelium to the needy cones. High dose ocular nutritional supplements enter the retina in this way.

Molecules nourish the retina through the retinal pigment epithelium.


Now back to that shoe...

How do normal-sighted people see the shoe color so differently? What if we looked at specific portion of the shoe? That's what is shown below.

sneaker background color against white backdrop sneaker laces crop against white background
Shoe color against plain white background Shoe laces against plain white background


On the left, the image is a crop of the body of the sneaker against a white background. Looks muddy gray, right? And on the right, the image is a crop of the laces against a white background. They sure look mint green.

And yet we can also agree that the original image doesn't look like vibrant color, the way we might see a pretty photograph of a landscape or people. There's something a little off and washed out. The palm holding the sneaker doesn't have normal skin tone.

If we use a computer program that can "color correct" an image, thus restoring the color balance we might really see in the world, this is where the MAGIC happens.

Clicking the "Color Correct" function in Photoshop magically transforms the image to a mauve sneaker with white laces!!!

color corrected shoe

So it appears that the people who see the sneakers this way are COLOR CORRECTING the image in their brains. One might even say that people who see mauve and white in the original image have brains with greater color processing power!

Images via Wikimedia Commons

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