No One Could Agree On The Color Of These Viral Photos, So The Science Stepped Up To Explain Why

Remember the great viral debate surrounding “The Dress”? What colors did you see – white and gold, or blue and black? A similar discussion cropped up when a user shared a snap of a sneaker on social media as well. Gray and green, or white and pink? But you may not know the scientific reason behind why we spot totally different shades compared to say, our family and friends.

Now of course, optical illusions aren’t anything new. Brain-twisting images that put you to the test have been around for a long time, whether they’re in books or on paper. And one such example is actually hanging in London, England, right now, and it’s sure to blow your mind.

It’s a painting called “The Ambassadors.” Germany’s Hans Holbein the Younger completed this work of art back in 1533, but something seems a little off. Namely, that weird distorted shape in the lower section. What’s going on? Well, if you examine the picture from a different slant it all becomes clearer.

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The shape is actually a skull – crazy right? An analyst named Phillip Kent noted that Holbein’s work was an illustration of “anamorphosis in art.” And it’d left people scratching their heads for hundreds of years, before a debate about it suddenly went viral in 2018, boosting its profile yet again.

The internet just can’t seem to get enough of optical illusions, you see. And thanks to its global reach, anyone with a social media account or working computer can look at them. The dress and the sneaker are arguably two of the most famous examples from recent times, but they’re not the only viral sensations.

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So let’s take a peek at some of the others. They’re sure to leave you rubbing your eyes in disbelief. One particular photo cropped up on Twitter in July 2018, as Dr. David Novick from the University of Texas put social media users to the test. He named the picture “confetti.”

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The illustration, which Novick drew up himself, showcases 12 different “dots” and several horizontal lines running across it. The narrow lines bear four different shades – blue, orange, green and purple. And so do the circles…right? Well, apparently not. The professor went into more detail in the original tweet.

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Novick wrote, “All the dots in the background are the same color, but are perceived as four different colors. The differences are subtle, though, and depend on the size of the image when it’s viewed.” The mind-bending image quickly went viral, earning more than 6,900 retweets and roughly 16,500 likes.

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And plenty of Twitter users were impressed by the illusion, with one offering their perspective. The person wrote, “If you look at each dot individually, you can tell [they’re the same color]. But if I didn’t know they were the same, I would have been none the wiser.” Do you agree?

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While you try to get your head around that, a different mind-bender was shared on Reddit in December 2017. This one was a photograph as opposed to a trippy illustration, coming from a user posting under the name agamiegamer. The image highlighted a chest of drawers inside a bedroom.

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Alongside the photo, agamiegamer posed this simple question – “What Color Do You See: Pink and White or Blue and Gray?” To say that the responses were mixed would be an understatement! Users couldn’t reach an agreement as to what they were looking at. Pretty similar to the dress and sneaker right?

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As the debate raged on, another user offered their opinion in the comments’ section. They said, “Well it’s definitely pink and white, but the lighting makes the white appear light blue. Anybody with a brain can tell it’s actually white.” But someone else had a different perspective when talking about the photo’s light.

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Yes, this user wrote, “A warm ambient light wouldn’t produce that drawer color as white, so my eyes tell me it has to be bluish based on experience. So the colors I think will be dirty pink/violet and baby blue.” That’s quite a contrast! But what was the answer?

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Well, agamiegamer revealed that the dresser was actually blue and gray. Yet we can still sense a few objections! Especially if you’re convinced that it’s really pink and white. But there is a scientific explanation as to why people are seeing different colors in these social media images.

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Continuing the trend, a Twitter user named Taylor Corso shared a seemingly innocuous photo on the platform in October 2016. The picture highlighted a Kate Spade handbag that she’d just got hold of. “Everyone say hello to my new baby,” Corso wrote in the tweet. But not even she could’ve predicted what would happen next.

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In response to the tweet, several people lauded the color of the accessory, with one writing, “This is a nice white purse, Corso.” And that’s when it happened. Corso corrected them by revealing, “It’s blue.” Cue: chaos. Because she’d unwittingly sparked a huge debate online.

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So what do you see? Numerous users maintained that Corso’s bag was white, despite her claims to the contrary. Then again, one individual quickly changed their mind between posts, as they continued to analyze the head-scratching image. The person said, “I feel like I’ve lost all sense of what color means now.”

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And in the user’s second comment, they added, “Wait, when I zoomed in it looks blue-ish.” Unbelievable isn’t it? Within a couple of days, Corso’s Twitter post had earned close to 400 retweets and roughly 2,000 likes. As we mentioned earlier, people just can’t get enough of optical illusions online.

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That brings us back to the two famous examples that took over the internet a few years ago. Let’s start with the sneaker. In the fall of 2017 a user on Twitter questioned its shade after posting it online. In their opinion, the shoe was teal and gray. But not everyone agreed with that assessment.

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Yes, there were others who were convinced that the sneaker was pink and white. And to add to the confusion, a different user adjusted the lighting of the image to bring out those colors. It definitely had an effect on the debate, as shown by this response to the rejigged photograph.

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The stunned user wrote, “Oh my God [at] first I saw teal and gray on the original. But now I saw this reply in pink and white, and now the original is pink and white too, what?!” Someone else agreed, adding, “It was the same for me? WHAT IS THIS?!”

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Is there a scientific explanation for that? Well, we can confirm that the sneaker was in fact pink and white. Sorry if you thought otherwise. How about the infamous dress, though? Was that debate ever put to bed on social media? Or are people still arguing about its shade today?

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It all began back in February 2015, as Caitlin McNeill took to Tumblr. She went on to post an image of a dress, with a cry for assistance. McNeill wrote, “Guys please help me – is this dress white and gold, or blue and black? Me and my friends can’t agree and [we] are freaking out.”

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And the flood-gates well and truly opened. Yes, a massive social media debate broke out, as users failed to reach an agreement. It even got to the point where “#TheDress” was a worldwide Twitter trend. Plus loads of famous faces weighed in on the discussion.

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Kim Kardashian found herself on the white and gold side, for instance. Meanwhile, the likes of Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Kanye West were sure that the dress was blue and black. What did you think? The answer eventually came out, confirming that West, Swift, Bieber and others were correct.

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So why couldn’t everyone agree on the dress and the sneaker to start with? Well, like we suggested earlier, science holds the answer to the optical illusions. To get there, three investigations took place after the 2015 debate, with the University of Giessen and the University of Bradford weighing in.

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According to them, it all ties back to a certain “mechanism” in our brains. Because when we stare at something, the vital organ always tries to register its original colors and shades. But that can become challenging as lighting changes throughout the day. So here’s where it gets very interesting.

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When the sun shines down in the middle of the day, that outside light has a blue shade to it. To counteract the sheen, our brain will remove the excess color as we look at an object. The same thing happens with “artificial light” as well, although in those cases yellow is the offending hue.

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And the brain receives some help as it attempts to block out the excess colors. For instance, if there are any green or red shades in your peripheral vision, that aids your organ to depose the right amount of yellow or blue. We know it’s a lot to take in, but here comes the kicker.

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If you take a closer look at the dress picture, you’ll notice that no prominent greens or reds are present. Therefore our brain is essentially on its own in figuring out the correct levels of color to dump. And that’s where the skewing opinions come in. Simply put, those with conflicting perspectives didn’t remove the same shades as each other – thus why they saw something different.

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So if your brain had blocked out more blue light, you would’ve been in the white and gold camp. On the flip-side, those of you who removed the yellow hue were likely to see the dress as black and blue – the correct colors. How fascinating! Thus one of the researchers offered their thoughts in the aftermath.

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Marina Bloj, a professor at the University of Bradford, spoke to the Daily Mail website in May 2015. She said, “The confusion would have never occurred if it was not for the special colors present in the photograph. It would not have happened with other colored dresses.”

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The sneaker debate was born out of this mental color extraction too. But why did so many people mistakenly remove the blue as they looked at the dress? Can that be explained? Well, a neuroscientist in America conducted a survey on the famous snap, and the results could offer a potential answer.

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Yes, Bevil Conway, who worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, got in touch with over 1,400 individuals regarding the divisive dress. And after analyzing the data, he made an intriguing connection. According to Conway’s findings, fans of the great outdoors had a better chance of being in the white and gold camp.

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Because if you’re constantly outside, your brain will be filtering out the blue light on a consistent basis. As for the other side of the coin, Conway shared an equally fascinating explanation. He noted that those of us who stay in the house for prolonged periods were more likely to be in the blue and black group.

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So in a similar situation to the opposing group, your brain will be wired to dump the excess yellows that usually emanate from artificial light. Interesting stuff right? But that’s not all, as some additional insights into the results have also been drawn.

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According to the Daily Mail, those of us in the younger age bracket largely gravitated towards the black and blue answer. The newspaper claimed that people in that group had an inclination to stay inside and sit up until the early hours. So of course, that means less exposure to the blue light outdoors.

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Then the publication noted that ladies had a higher chance of being in the white and gold camp. The belief is that they don’t stay up as late as their male counterparts, which lessens their brains’ workload in filtering out the yellow light. The blue shade is another matter, though!

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Anyway, off the back of Conway’s survey, he sat down to speak with the U.K. newspaper in May 2015. During their conversation, the neuroscientist admitted that he wasn’t really paying attention to the online craze at first. Yet that all changed when he started to look at things from a different perspective.

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Conway explained, “By studying the pairs of colors in ‘The Dress,’ we can answer the age-old question: do you see colors in the same way that I see them? And the answer sometimes is ‘no.’ I initially didn’t think it was that interesting. I thought it was just a crummy photograph. But it’s become clear that it’s a probe for understanding how the brain works.”

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