#TheDress: How do you see it?

Whether you’re in #teamblue or #teamwhite this viral sensation has highlighted the extraordinary way our eyes and brains work in order to make sense of the world around us.

When this writer was first asked THE question I thought it was a joke – I had to check the date to make sure it wasn’t April 1st. The dress was definitely blue.


Heading to the twittersphere I realised that this definitely wasn’t a joke. The dress had left people vehemently defending their respective colour combinations, joining sides and even questioning the universe.

So, maddeningly for both camps this phenomenon is apparently real. Well, maybe not ‘real’ because the way that we perceive colour is not so much related to our eyes but to our brains.

Paul Knox University of Liverpool Department of Eye and Vision says “Colour isn’t something that exists in the world. Different wavelengths of light exist and can be observed but colour is something we make up inside our heads.”

The reason we are perceiving the different colours is due to quality of light coming into the retina. People who see blue and black are seeing the photo at face value. People who see gold and white are compensating to the photo’s lighting and aesthetic.

The actual RGB colours found in #thedress image

The actual RGB colours found in #thedress image

The strange thing is that although it’s simply about light falling on your eyes, the way we perceive colour depends on so many things – sex, age, mood. It’s all a big illusion which depends on culture and language too.

Bevil Conway, a neuroscientist who studies color and vision at Wellesley College Conway tells Wired “I bet night owls are more likely to see it as blue-black,” whilst ‘morning larks’ may have a prejudice toward white-gold colour combinations

Our experiment

Intrigued by this we set tried a little experiment in our office. First asking them to take the BBC Lark or Owl test and to note the results, along with the colour that they perceive.

Of the 50 people we asked we saw a result that backed Conway’s hypothesis in staggering fashion. Results Below



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Balanced sleeping pattern



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From these results we can see that there is distinct split between the two camps with ‘night owls’ more likely to see the blue-black combination more frequently, while ‘morning larks’ have a predisposition to white-gold.

Interestingly, though we had a relatively equal split between white-gold and blue-black between those with balanced sleeping patterns there is a slight lean toward the blue-black combinations.

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