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Dividing a nation: An insight into human interpretation through colour illusions

By Optical Express

The five core human senses are what define us as individuals. Whether it's the music we love listening to, the food we prefer to dine on, or the nostalgic scents that take us back to a different time, our brains process each one uniquely, making us very different people.

Yet aside from the differences in our ability to see, vision is often seen as a little more linear; everyone sees a thing as it is, in the same way, right? Optical Express, partnering with Atomik Research, set a simple task to demonstrate just how our visual interpretations of the world around us can differ quite sharply, even on a very basic level.
 
Just one straightforward question was needed to test the nation: is the following swatch blue, or green?  

Over 1,000 people answered the question, with 64% claiming it was green, and 32% believing it to be blue. However, when the same 1,000 respondents were asked to name the same colour adjacent to two distinctly blue swatches, many changed their minds – 90% now stating that it was green.
 

The vast majority were indeed correct, after further prompting; the shade is more green than blue. According to the RGB (red, green, blue) colour spectrum, the values of the colour are Red 0, Green 122 and Blue 116.
 
The science of sight
 
There's still a very scientific reason behind why we interpret colour in the way we do. Light enters the eye and hits the retina – the light sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Light is then converted to an electrical signal that travels along the optic nerve and into the visual cortex in the brain.
 
The brain makes its own unique interpretation of this electrical signal – and this is why it's not surprising that many respondents changed their mind when seeing our question's colour in contrast to the two blue shades; we perceive an object’s colour based on a comparison to its surrounding shades, not on the actual colour itself.
 
Uncertainty with colour on a close scale like this is a lot more prevalent than many realise, and it's not necessarily to do with how our eyes work; language also plays an interesting part in the way we understand our surroundings.

The language of colour
 
The uncertainty of the blue-green colour spectrum is also prevalent in the English language. While cyan is the recognised name for a blue-green shade in design and colour industries, only 7% of the public would use this word to describe the mix. Instead, we found that people are more willing to name it turquoise (58%), teal (20%), or aqua (10%).
 
It's not just your average Joe that gets this wrong, though – even companies are guilty of branding that warps perception.
 

One organisation that's become famous for its iconic colouring is Tiffany, the famous jewellery brand of Breakfast at fame. Tiffany Blue, which has been trademarked by the retailer (number four in the above grid) was believed to be green by more than half of our respondents (58%), which was a fair assumption – after all, it's closer to green on the RGB spectrum (red 129, green 216, blue 208).
 
It's generally considered by Wikipedia, at least, that there are 73 shades of blue alone, and a further 56 accepted shades of green. Some are naturally more obvious than others, but it's certainly not an exhaustive list – you only have to look to Pantone, or a Dulux paint colour mixer, to do otherwise!
 
There's also the fact of human error. You only need to consider that someone may describe indigo as royal blue, and it's a misconception that can spread through repetition.

Colour blindness
 
An important thing that arose from this experiment was the very real problem of colour blindness: something that a lot of people don't realise they're affected by. Diagnosis can often be overlooked in favour of more straightforward eye tests to gauge the ability to see over long and short distances, though attitudes are changing.
 
It is becoming very common in schools to test pupils for colour blindness – also known as colour vision deficiency – with standard colour swatches to see if certain colours can be differentiated between, notably the red-green spectrum, which is the most common.
 
Assessing colour vision is just one of the myriad of examinations that can be undertaken during a routine sight test. It’s possible for colour blindness to go undetected depending on severity – as it’s impossible to see the world through another person’s eyes.
 
Yet what is important to underline is that conditions such as these can range from inconvenient to quite dangerous – often preventing those inflicted from pursuing certain careers.
 
While our recent test was a light-hearted affair, it still raises the fact that if you have any concerns about your colour perception, you should seek an appointment with a registered optometrist – they're there to help, and it could make for a much more confident future for you, however you look at the world.

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