A new study has found that the way people perceive colors changes with the seasons. The researchers focused on yellow in particular.
It’s a well known fact that the seasons themselves are dominated by different colors – green in the summer, brown and orange in the autumn, white in the winter, and light, pastel colors in the spring.
But a team of researchers from the University of York says that when a season changes, so does our perception of certain colors. They were especially interested in figuring out how people perceive the color yellow from season to season, and what they found is pretty surprising
The researchers remind everyone that people are able to identify four (4) unique hues that are “pure”, and not a result of two (2) or more colors mixing together – yellow, red, blue, and green.
But even in this select group of unique hues, unique yellow is a particularly special hue. Despite the fact that different populations perceive colors differently and often disagree on what “real red”, “real blue” and “real green” look like, they all agree on what “real yellow” looks like.
The team from the University of York set out to try to find an explanation for this. They questioned why this one color is so stable and wondered what type of factors may make it change. Could they be related to the biology of our eyes or is it much more likely that they are related to the colors in the environment around us?
For their study, the researchers picked out 67 test subjects, both men and women, and asked them color related questions once in January and once in June.
The subjects were guided into a darkened room, given the proper time for their eyes to adjust to the change, then presented with a machine known as a “colorimeter” and asked to adjust the dial forward and backward until they felt that they were looking at a “real yellow” that had no traces of red or green.
What they found was that the hue we consider to be “real yellow” looks a lot different in the winter than it does in the summer. Lauren Welbourne, lead author and PhD student, gave a statement saying that “What we are finding is that between seasons our vision adapts to changes in environment”.
She went on to add that during the summer months, “when there is a much larger amount of foliage, our visual system has to account for the fact that on average we are exposed to far more green”.
The findings are based on the many different measurements that she took of the settings during both seasons.
Welbourne also mentioned that while summers in York typically have green everywhere, winters in York are typically dressed in shades of white and grey. The human visual system compensates for these changes, and as a surprising, yet direct result of this process, what we think “real yellow” looks like changes along with the seasons.
Welbourne quipped that this process is not unlike “changing the color balance” on your computer or TV.
This is the first study to prove that the natural changes talking place in the environment around us affect the way we perceive colors.
As a vision scientist herself, Welbourne finds the conclusions fascinating and considers them to be very informative on how visual processing works.
However, she also admitted that they will not do anything to heal or treat a vision problem.
The study was published earlier this week, in the journal Current Biology.
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