Described as a "Timothy Leary for the viral video age," Jason Silva is a self-proclaimed "wonder junkie" whose series of noncommercial videos exploring inspiration, science, technology, and imaginationóhave been seen more than 2 million times online. While most people can see primary colors, about ten percent of the population have some degree of color blindness. Color exerts a profound influence upon how we see the world around us, and throughout history, various hues have taken on important social and psychological significance.
Primates, including humans, have pretty good color vision compared to a lot of other animals, which probably gave us and our hairier cousins an evolutionary advantage in hunting and in finding wild fruit and other plant-based food. Various frequencies of light create colors—blue light, for example, has a wavelength of about 475 nanometers, while at the longer end, red has a wavelength of 650 nanometers. In recent years, neuroscientists have used brain scans to investigate where and how color is perceived by the brain.
Men and women also perceive color slightly differently, according to a study published in 2004 in American Journal of Human Genetics by evolutionary geneticists Brian Verrelli and Sarah Tishkoff. A study presented in 2010 by University of Houston researcher Bhavin Sheth found that color perception actually drifts slightly in the course of a day, so that gray, for example, may eventually develop a faint greenish tint. All in all, though, we seem to perceive pretty much the same basic color palette, even though the number of color-sensitive cones in the retina can vary by as much as a factor of 40, according to a study published in 2005 by University of Rochester researchers.
As we've learned in previous episodes of Brain Games, your brain continually faces a daunting task in perceiving and making sense of the immense flood of sensory information that you pick up from the world around you. When experimental subjects stare at a dot in the center of a color image on a TV screen, they'll continue to see the hues even after the image morphs into black-and-white. Colors' ability to trigger emotions may be why humans have long imbued them with symbolic meanings. In the retail world, marketing experts carefully contemplate the effect of colors on consumer behavior. Color and how our brains perceive it have a profound impact on our everyday lives, and we usually never even notice. Play this game along with Professor David Poeppel and discover a surprising link in your brain between music and color! Researchers have discovered a possible link between higher testosterone levels and what color?
In this episode, we learn how the colors that we perceive actually exist in our brains, which take the wavelengths of reflected light that our eyes observe and combine it with information from our past observations of the world. But researchers also have discovered that just as our brains influence color, seeing certain colors can influence our brains in various ways. Choose the background color for your computer screen, based upon the task you’re performing.
Not since Monica Lewinsky was a White House intern has one blue dress been the source of so much consternation. The fact that a single image could polarize the entire Internet into two aggressive camps is, let’s face it, just another Thursday.
Light enters the eye through the lens—different wavelengths corresponding to different colors. We asked our ace photo and design team to do a little work with the image in Photoshop, to uncover the actual red-green-blue composition of a few pixels. In the image as presented on, say, BuzzFeed, Photoshop tells us that the places some people see as blue do indeed track as blue. The point is, your brain tries to interpolate a kind of color context for the image, and then spits out an answer for the color of the dress.
At least we can all agree on one thing: The people who see the dress as white are utterly, completely wrong. Studies have found that people most often associate blue with trustworthiness, competence, and masculinity. Then they showed pictures of abstract rings in the same colors as the bananas and other items, for comparison. But whether we're looking at blueberries or at a painting from Pablo Picasso's "Blue Period" in a museum, what we actually perceive is electromagnetic energy, emitted by a source such as the Sun or an electric light fixture, and then reflected off other objects in the environment.
All of these frequencies are mixed together in sunlight, so that if we just saw the blend, everything would look white.

In the retina, a layer in the back of our eye, we have tiny structures called rods and cones.
A study published in 2010 in The Open Neuroimaging Journal suggests that it may be a pretty complex process that takes place in several areas, including a region of the visual cortex known as the fusiform gyrus, or V4. While most of us can perceive about a million different gradations of color, there are rare individuals with cone deficiencies who see the world in black, white and variations of gray, and others who can't tell the difference between red and green, though they can perceive blue and yellow just fine. They found that women often have a genetic variation that enables them to discriminate between colors in the red-orange section of the visible spectrum more precisely than men. After a good night's sleep, though, your brain apparently resets its color-perception equipment, and you see gray as gray again.
A study published in PLOS One in 2013 by University of Liverpool perception researcher Sophie Wuerger found that the human ability to see colors remains constant over a lifetime, even as the cones lose sensitivity.
To avoid overload, your grey matter has developed ingenious tricks and shortcuts—essentially, educated guesses based upon previous knowledge about the world that you've amassed in your life. But even after our ancestors stopped being hunter-gatherers and developed complex civilizations, color continued to play an important role in everyday existence. A study published in 2012 in the journal Animal Behavior found that changing the color of light actually had a bigger impact upon the day-night behavior of fish than the intensity of the light.
In ancient Egypt, red and black were associated with death, while green signified life and yellow represented eternity. A controversial study by English anthropologists, published in Nature in 2005, reported that in Olympic combative sports such as taekwondo and wrestling, athletes who wore red uniforms had a higher probability of winning the matches, suggesting the color may project a message of dominance that influences competitors. A study published in 2013 by University of Virginia associate professor of marketing Rajesh Bagchi, for example, revealed that in transactions with fixed prices, consumers were more likely to buy products when a store had blue décor than they were if the background was red.
A study by University of Rochester researchers, published in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, found that women viewed men who wore red clothing as more attractive than those who wore blue.
A study published in 2009 by University of British Columbia researchers found that when subjects used a red background, they did better at tasks such as proofreading or solving anagrams, which requires attention to details. But for the past half-day, people across social media have been arguing about whether a picture depicts a perfectly nice bodycon dress as blue with black lace fringe or white with gold lace fringe. 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. Host Jason Silva gets inside your head and show you whatís going on in there, with an intricate series of interactive experiments designed to mess with your mind and reveal the inner-workings of your brain. One possible explanation is that we’re taught to trust and respect the blue uniform worn by police officers.
Every color you see is your brain’s interpretation of reflected light, not the object’s true color! Some people live with achromatopsia, a condition which prevents them from seeing any colors at all!
As it turned out, the black-and-white pictures of the bananas elicited the same patterns of neural activity which occurred when the subjects were viewing the yellow-colored ring. But recent scientific discoveries shed new light upon the mysteries of color perception, and help explain why color plays such an important role in our lives. Instead, though, light is filtered through the atmosphere, and then encounters objects, which allow the light to pass through, reflect it, or absorb it—or some combination of these effects.
Eye diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration can also interfere with color perception.
That ability may have come in handy in prehistoric times, when scientists believe that men hunted animals and women, who had to stay closer to the camp with the children, searched for berries and other plant foods. All that suggests that our perception of color is controlled much more by our brains than by our eyes.
Scientists have discovered that different colors cause a variety of emotional responses—the short-wavelength color of blue, for example, has a calming effect, while longer wavelengths such as yellow, orange and red tend to make us more alert.
It may be that the atmospheric filtering that creates more yellow light in the morning has something to do with why we wake up then.
In Elizabethan England, the color of one's clothing was an indication of social class—only earls could wear purple silk or gold embroidery, while blue and crimson velvet were reserved for barons. Another study by University of British Columbia researchers, published in 2009 in the journal Science, found that the colors on computer screens seemed to influence subjects' ability to perform various tasks.

But at auctions, in contrast, bidders were more willing to pay after being exposed to a red background. Andrews in Scotland, for example, found that subjects used the color of another person's skin as an indicator of that person's health. That said, individuals with broad features were considered trustworthy regardless of eye color. Additionally, women viewed red-clad men as higher in status, more likely to make money, and more likely to climb the social ladder. But a blue background seemed to produce better performance at creative tasks and intelligence tests, which require imaginative thinking instead of accuracy. Critically, though, that first burst of light is made of whatever wavelengths are illuminating the world, reflecting off whatever you’re looking at. So, add us to your ad blocker’s whitelist or pay $1 per week for an ad-free version of WIRED. Color associations vary, but companies tend to rely on color psychology when designing products and advertising.
This episode of Brain Games puts your brain to the ultimate test with a series of interactive games and fascinating experiments that will reveal a shocking truth—color is just an illusion created by your brain. And not only did the subjects see colors that weren't there, but the perception occurred in the visual cortex, the region of the brain where information from sight first arrives. Visible light amounts to only a narrow swath in the middle of the electromagnetic spectrum—frequencies between 400 and 700 nanometers. For example, a plant leaf may absorb long and short frequencies of light and reflect the light at middle wavelengths or around 510 nanometers, which is why it appears green to us. The cones, which are less sensitive and require stronger light to work, are what enable us to see colors. That suggests that your brain utilizes colors to help recognize objects and pinpoint where they are located. Then when the image flips back to black and white, those tired cells can't pull their weight and it's the cells for the complimentary colors that are more active.
In contemporary American politics, we divide the landscape into blue (Democratic) and red (Republican) states, with swing states denoted as purple.
Groups with red backgrounds did better on tests of recall and attention to detail, such as remembering words or checking spelling and punctuation. A light-skinned person with a reddish flush to his or her cheeks was perceived as being fit and vigorous, while subjects judged a pale-looking person as being ill. A study published in 2008 by one of the same researchers found that men feel more sexual attraction to women dressed in red as well. And when Harris reversed the process, balancing to the darkest pixel in the image, the dress popped blue and black. We'll show you how some colors can make you fly, reveal ghostly colors that don't actually exist, and if you play along you’ll see how color helps keep you alive. There's actually something to this, because people who are physically fit, or else have high levels of sex hormones, tend to have more blood vessels in the skin, and thus become flush more easily. That chromatic axis varies from the pinkish red of dawn, up through the blue-white of noontime, and then back down to reddish twilight.
If you just looked at those numbers and tried to predict what color that was, what would you say?” Conway asks. Those are the colors that each type of cone is most sensitive to, but each type actually can perceive a wider range of frequencies.
The neural messages generated by those cones overlap and are stitched together by your brain, which enables you to see different gradations of color.

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