- Friday, February 27, 2015
Black and blue, or gold and white? This is the question many are puzzling over this week on social media as an image of one dress which appears to be a different color, depending on the viewer, went viral. Wellesley neuroscientist Bevil Conway explained the color phenomeon for WIRED and the Guardian, among others, this week.
The dress began as a Tumblr post which quickly spread through the Internet as users passionately disagreed over the color of the dress. “This fight is about more than just social media,” wrote blogger Adam Rodgers about the color controversy in The Science of Why No One Agrees on the Color of This Dress. “... It’s about primal biology and the way human eyes and brains have evolved to see color in a sunlit world.”
Rodgers talked to Conway, associate professor of neuroscience and expert on the neural basis of color, about what he sees when he looks at the dress. “What’s happening here is your visual system is looking at this thing, and you’re trying to discount the chromatic bias of the daylight axis… So people either discount the blue side, in which case they end up seeing white and gold, or discount the gold side, in which case they end up with blue and black.”
In an op-ed for British newspaper The Guardian, Conway analyzed the phenomenon and the human obsession with color. "We are always fascinated by optical illusions, by the tricks that the visual system plays with our perception, and this reminds us that for most of the time we unflinchingly rely on visual cues to navigate our world," he wrote. "... Colour seems to have direct access to our emotions. Yet the way the brain calculates colour isn’t governed by simple rules: what looks like one colour to you can appear as a very different colour to me. It is this combination of factors – the emotional power of colour coupled with the inherent mystery in how colour is determined by the brain – that sparks our collective obsession with the colour of that dress."
A member of Wellesley's interdisciplinary neuroscience program, Conway is both a visual neuroscientist and visual artist. His interests are focused on mechanisms underlying perception, cognition, and behavior, which he addresses by exploring the neural basis of color. One long-term goal of his research program is an understanding of the neural processes by which color influences emotional states.
Wellesley in the News
Wellesley faculty member Aaron Sheehan accepted a GRAMMY Award for Best Opera Recording in honor of the Boston Early Music Festival's recording of a 17th-century opera in which he played the starring role.February 11, 2015
Professor Hahrie Han spoke with The UpShot, a New York Times blog, for story exploring why Democrats continue to have more success than Republicans when it comes to online fundraising.February 5, 2015
Writers for the popular blog FiveThirtyEight highlighted a paper co-authored by Wellesley’s Kristin Butcher among the most interesting research presented at this year’s annual meeting of the American Economic Association.January 13, 2015
Students take funny women seriously in a new Theatre studies course examining the role played by comedic pioneers in shaping American culture over the last century.February 26, 2015
Professor Alice T. Friedman’s article Queer Old Things shows how Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein constructed a public image that challenged accepted gender roles.February 24, 2015
Dr. Kwan Kew Lai ‘74 embodies Wellesley’s motto, Non Ministrari sed Ministrare (Not to be ministered unto but to minister). She is currently in West Africa for the second time helping patients with Ebola.