White And Gold Or Blue And Black? Scientists Explain Why Everyone Sees The Dress Differently

So what color is that dress that’s all over social media — is it white and gold or blue and black?

The viral mystery originated on a Tumblr page where user Swiked posted a picture of the ambiguously colored dress and asked, “Guys please help me – is this dress white and gold, or blue and black? Me and my friends can’t agree and we are freaking the (expletive) out.”

It turns out the rest of the internet was freaking out as well. The picture sparked countless arguments among some who thought the real colors of the dress were white and gold and others who swore they saw blue and black.

One Twitter user named BradTheLadLong even tried to take credit for the viral sensation, claiming that he had altered a picture of the dress as part of a grand experiment.

Thank you all for taking part in my ‘white and gold’ ‘black and blue’ dress experiment. Read on for info. Thanks. pic.twitter.com/44Jb00FAno

— BradTheLadLong (@BradTheLadLong) February 27, 2015

While that idea was disproven, some experts on the science of optics have a real explanation for why the dress appears blue and black to some and white and gold to others.

Wired tracked down Jay Neitz, a neuroscientist at the University of Washington, who explained that the picture is a fascinating study on perception and how it can differ from person to person.

Here is the complete explanation:

“Light enters the eye through the lens—different wavelengths corresponding to different colors. The light hits the retina in the back of the eye where pigments fire up neural connections to the visual cortex, the part of the brain that processes those signals into an image. Critically, though, that first burst of light is made of whatever wavelengths are illuminating the world, reflecting off whatever you’re looking at. Without you having to worry about it, your brain figures out what color light is bouncing off the thing your eyes are looking at, and essentially subtracts that color from the ‘real’ color of the object. ‘Our visual system is supposed to throw away information about the illuminant and extract information about the actual reflectance,” says Jay Neitz, a neuroscientist at the University of Washington. ‘But I’ve studied individual differences in color vision for 30 years, and this is one of the biggest individual differences I’ve ever seen.’ (Neitz sees white-and-gold.)”

And Reddit user cccCody sheds more light on the dress color mystery, explaining that the picture’s poor lighting adds to the difficulty in determining the color:

“The photo is poorly exposed, but there’s not enough context to tell whether it’s overexposed or underexposed. To me, it looks like it’s white and gold, but with a shadow cast over it. To others it looks like a washed out photo of a blue and black dress. You perceive it differently depending on which correction your brain does. I have a feeling that if we could zoom out and see more of the scene, people would agree on what colors it was.”

To solve the mystery, the real color of the dress is blue and black, not white and gold. Here is a picture of it directly from Amazon, where it is listed as Roman Women’s Lace Detail Bodycon Dress Royal Blue.