the dress

This is a photo of the dress that a tumblr user posted to the social media site, asking whether this dress is white and gold or blue and black.

The dress that’s tearing apart the Internet is white and gold! Wait. No. It’s black and blue.

On Thursday, a woman posted a picture of the now-famous dress on Tumblr. She asked for help settling a debate over the color of the fabric. 

The picture went viral, with opinions split between those who saw a black and blue dress and those who saw a white and gold dress.

So who’s right?

“They’re both right,” said Wally Thoreson, the vice chair of the department of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Thoreson said that to perceive color, our brains perform a calculation that takes into account the color of the light around the object in question.

People who see a white and gold dress are being told by their brains that the light around the dress is tinged blue, likely from a “cool” light bulb.

People seeing a blue and black dress are seeing yellow-tinged light around the dress, likely from a “warm” light bulb.

This difference in perception is always happening in a subtle way, Thoreson said. One person might see a shirt as royal blue, another person sees navy. Thoreson, for example, sees his wife’s red dress as orange.

The online dress debate “is just a really dramatic example of that,” he said. Some people even saw the dress “change colors” in different settings.

That’s because the brain also takes into account the light on the screen used to view the picture and the light in the room around us.

It’s the same way an object might look one shade at dusk, another in a bright light and another under a blue sky at midday.

The brain will “redo” its color calculation as you adapt to the lighting around you, the same way your eyes adjust to darkness.

If we all stood in the same room with the dress, we’d see the same colors, though, Thoreson said.

As for the real dress? It's black and blue, apparently

But don't worry, white and gold group: Your eyes are fine.

“It doesn’t mean that you have bad color vision or that there’s anything wrong with your visual system. ... It just means we all have differing perceptions and that makes for a richer experience in the world,” the UNMC professor said.

Thoreson, for the record, sees the dress as pale blue and golden brown.

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