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Here's the dress (and keep reading, this is actually a serious question):

enter image description here

This question about this image has apparently become quite a rapidly spreading meme on the internet. And after conducting my own little home experiment I can see why! My brother an law looked at this image on the same screen as I did and said matter-of-factly that the dress is black and blue. I, on the other hand can't see this as anything but gold and white. I tried this question with a few others with similar results.

So the question is... what is going on here? What is causing this to either appear strongly as black and blue or gold and white?

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  • $\begingroup$ see this other photo of the dress (allegedly). $\endgroup$ – Matt Ellen Feb 27 '15 at 10:16
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    $\begingroup$ We're looking at how to recreate it as well if anyone wants to offer a more precise solution: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/49000/… $\endgroup$ – Ryan Feb 27 '15 at 18:14
  • $\begingroup$ I'm leaning towards TidalWave's theory (combined with general pre-influencing the outcome via the title of the 'effect'). I'd like to know what % of people see the wrong colors (and if they're predominantly male...going back to TidalWave's theory...) $\endgroup$ – DA. Feb 27 '15 at 18:35
  • $\begingroup$ What makes you sure they're seeing the wrong colors? $\endgroup$ – Sterno Feb 27 '15 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ I'm a lady and I see Gold and White. I have 20/20 vision. $\endgroup$ – Glowie Feb 28 '15 at 0:46
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My hypothesis: The world accidentally stumbled upon the first (to my knowledge) bi-stable color illusion

Here is an example of bistable illusion:

This bistable illusion involves the perception of motion. Is the dancer spinning clockwise or counterclockwise? The deal is that the image is actually ambiguous. But you can't possible perceive both clockwise or counterclockwise motion at once, so you are automatically drawn to one and it's hard to switch off to the other.

And here is an example of a color illusion:

Amazingly the "blue" in the left cube and the "yellow" squares in the right cube are both the same color - grey! (Go ahead and take out your RGB color meter and see for yourself.) And the effect here is caused by the "context" of the color placed over the images of the cubes.

I'm thinking that somehow an ambiguous background to that dress image and the possibility for a fabric that has a sheen, is leading us quickly come to the subconscious conclusion that this is either a black/blue dress under bright yellow-tinted light or a gold/white dress that is in a bluish shadow. And whatever conclusion we start with is so strong that we can't break from it or see it any other way.

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  • $\begingroup$ Someone on the internet had a similar thought: twitter.com/JoshDarnIT/status/571162672244215808 $\endgroup$ – John Berryman Feb 27 '15 at 4:46
  • $\begingroup$ Judging by the fact that some start out seeing white/gold and then suddenly see it "change" to blue/black, this seems likely to me. $\endgroup$ – hairboat Feb 27 '15 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ Very interesting. I'm familiar with both of these illusions (and the dress) but thought it would be interested and relevant to pose the question on GraphicDesign.SE as to how to create such an illusion. If you have any suggestions on how it might be replicated --- graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/49000/… $\endgroup$ – Ryan Feb 27 '15 at 18:17
  • $\begingroup$ Wow. I knew the bi-stable motion illusions existed, but I never realized they had a name. (I've seen them in several animated graphics, but I don't think I've ever seen them called out as illusions by others - let alone in a scientific context.) And the one you picked is really great. I can usually "switch the illusion" pretty easily once I realize it, but I had a hard time with the dancer. Switching the first time seemed easy enough, but switching back took some effort. $\endgroup$ – Iszi Feb 27 '15 at 19:32
  • $\begingroup$ I think a bit of clarification might be in order for the cubes image. I was confused for a minute until I actually took out a color picker, and then had another look at the whole image. I'd suggest putting a line down the middle to more cleanly divide the image, then state something to the effect that the colors shown beneath the illusion pictures actually represent the squares at the marked locations in the image directly above them. That is to say: On the left, "blue" is gray and "red" is orange. On the right, "yellow" is gray and "red" is purple. $\endgroup$ – Iszi Feb 27 '15 at 20:01
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There is an interesting demonstration in this YouTube video (4:10 minutes) by Jean-Francoir Gariépy which shows a difference in the color perception depending on whether the dress is scanned from the top to the bottom of the image or vice versa.

A conclusion from this could be that people scan pictures of dresses in different ways, although an individually calibrated color perception might of course still play a subordinate role.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you make your answer more self-contained? Otherwise it is a better fit as a comment than as an answer. $\endgroup$ – Artem Kaznatcheev May 19 '15 at 19:07
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    $\begingroup$ I actually noticed this myself. After thinking the dress was gold and white I glanced back at my screen where the dress was almost totally scrolled off the screen to the top, and I said "hey! the dress is now black and blue!?" $\endgroup$ – John Berryman May 23 '15 at 4:05
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Look at your screen from beneath. Or if you have a laptop, turn the screen as far as possible away from you so that the angle between a line from your eye and the picture becomes very small. You can try it with this page. The blue on the top changes to a greenish color, and also other colors change. Anyhow, when you do this you'll see the color of the dress change from black and blue to white and gold. So the problem is related to looking at a (LED) screen from different angles. Black turns to white (grey, actually) and blue to gold.

Look at an arbitrary picture somewhere on the web. You'll see the same effect.

I think that if the real picture of the dress (so not the picture on a screen) is shown to a number of people, all will perceive the dress as black and blue.

So: print the picture, show it to whoever you want, and see how they perceive the colors of the picture. It's my guess that the described phenomenon won't be there.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why the downvotes? This is exactly the reason. It has nothing to do with optical illusions but everything to do with being an artifact created by the construction of the screen the image is being viewed on. The angle one looks at the image changes the color. $\endgroup$ – Dunk Jan 17 at 22:12

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