You’ve all probably seen and read about “the dress,” or the color constancy phenomenon than not only launched a viral reaction but promoted a special edition of The Journal of Vision. Of course, we are going to include this in our new editions of Discovering Behavioral Neuroscience and Discovering Psychology: The Science of Mind, right? Well, not so fast! Both permissions teams at Cengage ran into a brick wall. Although people share images all over the Internet, the rules for publishers’ use of images are really strict. We couldn’t get anything, even the advertisement for the dress by its maker, Roman Originals in the UK. Wikipedia has a line art graphic that supposedly illustrates the point, but yuck. So what to do?

Well, enter eBay as our savior! Going online, I found two versions of “the Dress” in what I hoped might be something close to my size. One came with the original labels, so I thought that was a safe bet. When the dress arrived, my first thought was “who would wear this to a wedding,” and my second thought was that I am SO going to wear this thing to WPA this year!

My husband knows his way around photography, having actually taken a very personal interest in ads he developed for Nestle and Mars in the day, and he understood the mission. So we walked around the house trying to recreate the image that caused the illusion. We didn’t want to just Photoshop it–that’s cheating! Finally, Roger took a photo in front of our bookcase in the living room that is flanked by two big windows. Voila! The illusion recreated!

What’s really surprising is how blue and black this dress really is! I still see it at blue and brown–I’m one of apparently about 11% who persist in that view.

I’m not sure that we still won’t get in trouble for our image–it’s that close. I thought it WAS the original image until Roger pointed out “there’s your watch and you hold your fingers in a funny way like that all the time….” I didn’t know about the latter.

We have ended up taking quite a few images for our textbooks. Getting permissions for images is not only difficult, but expensive. So by taking this one for the books, it’s not only free, but we had a bit of fun with it.


emilyknighton · November 5, 2017 at 7:01 pm

Dr. Freberg, I love that you bought your own version of the dress! For science! When you mentioned that you’d purchased it and planned to talk about it later on in the course, I was so excited. It’s very interesting to me that, even though there are some generally universal mechanisms for how the human race sees visual stimuli, our perceptions can still differ so greatly. I, for example, really cannot imagine how the dress could be seen as blue and brown. I can’t even force my brain to make that switch in my head; all I see is blue and black. So when the dress photo first came out I remember wondering how on Earth anyone was seeing white and gold. The newer photo with the mint and/or pink tennis shoe seems a little more variable to me, like I might potentially be able to see where someone with a different perception was coming from. But it really made me wonder what specifically differs between two viewers’ optical hardware to produce such different color schemes when we’re processing the same input.

I have a very good friend who is red/green color deficient, and I am definitely guilty of pestering him about how he perceives different things because I am so curious. An optometrist friend of his recently provided him with a pair of color-correcting sunglasses, and he’s said some really interesting things about what he’s been able to see with them. For example, he used to think that the green stoplight color was more of a silver, but that everyone just called it green for the sake of clarity or something. When he finally saw stoplights through the glasses, he was blown away at how emerald they appeared! He also reported that trips to the grocery store were never quite the same after seeing them through the sunglasses. He used to think there wasn’t much variation in yellow/green bananas or different colors of apples. Leaves, trees, bushes, and flowers all generally just looked brown to him. But the sunglasses allowed him to see so many of the color discrepancies that a lot of us naturally see all of the time. He was so amazed by the breadth of colors in the piles of fruit and bouquets of flowers at the grocery store; it made me realize how much I take my ability to differentiate between red and green for granted!

brit · January 18, 2018 at 1:05 pm

This is one of my favorite posts on your blog yet because it deals with, like you said, a global internet sensation that had everyone going crazy wondering if the dress was black and blue or black and brown. When I saw the original image, I will admit that it took me a while do decide what color I thought the dress was. To this day I see the dress as black and blue. I found it very interesting that you bought a replica of the dress and was able to match the professional photos perfectly. Well done!

monjazeb · February 6, 2018 at 10:28 am

I think this post is a great example of how psychological ideas involving perception can be discussed over social media. Social media has a great impact on our lives today and it has become very common for controversial discussions to occur over the internet today.

TakaShimokobe · March 14, 2018 at 10:35 am

I love this blog post! I found it hilarious that you actually bought the viral blue/gold dress. Color constancy is an area of study I am very interested in —- I find it fascinating how differently people can perceive the same item differently. I remember first seeing this photo and being sure that it was gold and white, but after a while ended up seeing it as blue and black. I can never see it as gold or white again, which is something that has perplexed me for a while.

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