The science of color perception

By | November 1, 2022

Nicola Jones writes:

What color is a tree, or the sky, or a sunset? At first glance, the answers seem obvious. But it turns out there is plenty of variation in how people see the world — both between individuals and between different cultural groups.

A lot of factors feed into how people perceive and talk about color, from the biology of our eyes to how our brains process that information, to the words our languages use to talk about color categories. There’s plenty of room for differences, all along the way.

For example, most people have three types of cones — light receptors in the eye that are optimized to detect different wavelengths or colors of light. But sometimes, a genetic variation can cause one type of cone to be different, or absent altogether, leading to altered color vision. Some people are color-blind. Others may have color superpowers.

Our sex can also play a role in how we perceive color, as well as our age and even the color of our irises. Our perception can change depending on where we live, when we were born and what season it is.

To learn more about individual differences in color vision, Knowable Magazine spoke with visual neuroscientist Jenny Bosten of the University of Sussex in England, who wrote about the topic in the 2022 Annual Review of Vision Science. [Continue reading…]

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