#Dressgate redux

April 1, 2015

As everyone knows, teenage girls have the knack of identifying the important new trends that come to define our culture: boy bands, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, and reality television. For this reason, I became instantly alert when Dean, a talented ophthalmologist and loyal Ophthalmology Times reader, contacted me one evening about what was shortly to become the latest Internet sensation.

 

By Peter J. McDonnell, MD

 

“Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”

-Chico Marx in Duck Soup (movie)

As everyone knows, teenage girls have the knack of identifying the important new trends that come to define our culture: boy bands, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, and reality television. For this reason, I became instantly alert when Dean, a talented ophthalmologist and loyal Ophthalmology Times reader, contacted me one evening about what was shortly to become the latest Internet sensation.

“My teenage girls have been Twittering and texting all evening, and the subject is the photo of the dress. It seems some perceive the dress to be gold and white, while others see it as black and blue. As an ophthalmologist, I am expected to explain the phenomenon.”

Blog: The power of what we do

Sure enough, within 24 hours the image of the dress was plastered on the Internet and the varying color scheme was the preferred topic of scientific discussion and debate by the traditional moderators of scientific discourse in our country (morning drive-time radio hosts).

No less an authority than the prominent neuro-ophthalmologist from my own institution, Neil Miller, MD, shared his perspective on the situation. His Twitter-post quickly received 17,000 views and 119 retweets:

“It has to do with the individual’s color perception. Presumably, the cones-the photoreceptors in the retina-that see the primary colors (red, blue, and green) either are functioning differently in different individuals or the information that gets to the area of the brain that interprets color (V4) is interpreted differently by different individuals.”

NEXT: Who's right?

 

What is interesting in either regard is that apparently people see the dress either as black/blue or white/gold-nothing in between. Thus, there must be a very consistent difference between these two groups, whether at the retinal level or at the level of the cerebral cortex.”

This post on the Internet received responses literally from around the globe. Denise shared that she sees both color combinations (black/blue and white/gold), whereas Akash reported that he sees green and blue. Sally reported the dress to be gold and white when she scrolls down, but blue and black when she scrolls back up. Irina, wondering what is wrong with her, reports seeing the dress in her own special combo of colors (blue/gold).

Aquaflame pipes in with the following assertion that this whole thing is a hoax: “I think this is bull. Its (sic) clear that different pictures of the dress is (sic) floating around the Internet, and people are responding to these DIFFERENT pictures.”

Challenging Aquaflame’s claim that the explanation is different images, Sablemouse reports: “My daughter and I looked at the same picture. She sees white/gold, I see light blue/bronze.”

Perhaps fatigue is a factor, suggests Runzhe: “I see it as gold and white. But last night I was doing homework for like 5 hours and I looked at it again before I go to sleep, it became blue and black! When I got up this morning, it became g&w again.”

Ambiniac questions her own sanity: “I only see black and blue or gold and blue, I never see the white color. [Dr. Miller’s] article says that it is only possible to see the two pairings, nothing in between. Am I crazy??”

NEXT: Just like Bieber?

 

Quadrat, a medical student, has clearly been conducting clinical research: “I am able to see both combinations of colours with different levels of accommodation of my eye. When I blur the image, i.e., it is out of focus, the shade becomes blue and black and remains so for a while after refocussing the dress. The intensity of light and shades of dark also seem to play a role in it.”

So, what can we conclude from the collective experimentation and analysis of our planet’s most brilliant teenagers, medical scientists, medical students and disc jockeys?

  • Vision, the most fascinating of our senses, is of great interest around the world.

  • Cognitive scientists, who study how our brain perceives what we see and whether all see the same color when we label something as (for example) red, may need to study this phenomenon in more detail.

  • Aquaflame seems cynical, Runzhe studies too much, and Ambiniac is probably crazy.

  • There is no explanation, and never will be, for the popularity of Justin Bieber.