Insight article

The dress is in the eye of the beholder

Team Blue and Black, or White and Gold? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you clearly haven’t been exposed to much social, or indeed any, media this past week, in what has become one of the most talked about internet sensations in recent years. ‘TheDress’, as it became known, split the world (at least those on Twitter anyway), dividing workplaces, celebrity couples, and earning the manufacturer, Roman Originals, more free publicity than they could ever have dreamt of.

The science – briefly, because it’s not that interesting, and because I still don’t understand it – is to do with how the brain perceives colour, and chromatic adaptation, and means some people will see the dress in its actual colours – blue and black, whilst others will perceive it as being white and gold.

What I found interesting about the debate was how vehement people were in their assertions that they were seeing the ‘correct’ colours. Until the original dress was revealed (and Team Blue and Black came out in triumphant applause), everyone seemed to be vehement that the colours they were seeing were right. Some celebrity tweeters argued with their other halves about the dispute, others declared themselves scared and confused. It was as if one dress had the power to make some doubt their very existence.

It’s fine for opinions to be divided – we read about this every day in the papers, ranging from trivialities to worldwide disputes – but when such basics as what we see with our very eyes are challenged, we can’t accept the fact we might be wrong. We’ve all seen optical illusions, gone cross-eyed in concentration at magic eye posters, and even the concept of colour blindness doesn’t faze us anymore. So why all the fuss?

A couple of weeks ago, a fellow blogger, Tabrez, wrote of his surprise and delight in discovering that one of our colleagues has synesthesia. Whilst she regaled us all with tales of how she ‘sees’ words, names and events in colours, smells, even tastes, we were interested and intrigued – but never at any point did we feel she was wrong, or strange – merely she had a different way of experiencing things to us. The same with the dress. I saw it white and gold, but considered myself neither right nor wrong for doing so. It was just my perception. It strikes me that perception can be dangerous if it undermines what we consider to be a shared experience. How many other things do we see differently?

At the end of the day, it’s just a dress – and will be quickly forgotten. But it would be nice to live in a world in which a difference in perception merely sparks a lively conversation, not international outcry! I maintain that the dress is prettier in white and gold than blue and black. But that’s just my opinion.

Nailia Tasseel