About a week ago, a 21-year old woman, Caitlin McNeill posted a photo of a dress that has caused a social media tidal wave. Even more interesting than the answer to what is the real color of the dress is why do some people see it as gold and white while others insist it’s blue and black.

The truth is the colors of the dress in the photograph are a murky brown and a greyish lavender. Whether you see the dress as blue and black or gold and white depends on how your brain is interpreting the scene. While the cones in our eyes are the receptors of color information, it’s our brain that compares the signals from the cones and produces an impression of colors. It looks to cues in the scene to interpret the real color of an object no matter what the illumination. It’s called color constancy and it’s why you know a white car is white even if it’s sunset and reflecting orange or nighttime and in dark blue shadow.

Since colors depicted in the photograph are actually midway between gold and black and blue and white, the dress either appears to be gold and white in a cool shadow or blue and black in a bright, warm light. Depending on how your brain interprets the ambiguous cues in the photograph, it will see it one way or the other.

According to the most recent internet sources, it now appears the dress really is blue and black. The mystery may be solved, but the fascination with how we all see the dress differently continues.

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