Why the #whatcoloristhisdress frock is actually blue and black

Twitter got into a pretty lively argument Thursday about whether the color of a particular dress was black and blue or white and gold. How do people see things so differently? AsapScience explains.

Anthony Domanico
CNET freelancer Anthony Domanico is passionate about all kinds of gadgets and apps. When not making words for the Internet, he can be found watching Star Wars or "Doctor Who" for like the zillionth time. His other car is a Tardis.
Anthony Domanico
2 min read

Thursday was quite the interesting day on Twitter. After the FCC voted in favor of Net Neutrality, we followed a llama chase through the streets of Sun City, Ariz. Then came a simple picture of a dress that sent the Twitter world into a frenzy as people debated whether the garment was black and blue or white and gold using the hashtag #whatcoloristhisdress.

Turns out the dress, which was posted to Tumblr by Swiked, is actually black and blue. But no matter how hard I try, all I can see is white and gold. Is there something wrong with me (and with many of you out there)? Is my brain broken? A new video from AsapScience explains that the answer is complicated, and depends on how your brain is viewing and interpreting the image.

AsapScience explains the concept of color constancy, which suggests that our brains actually change the color of objects in certain contexts. To demonstrate how this works, the video shows an image of two sides of a Rubik's cube, each with a brown square in the center position. One side of the cube is brightly lit, while the other is stuck in the shadows. Our brains know that things in shadows typically appear darker, and compensate by making colors in the shadows a bit lighter. As a result, we see the square in the light as being brown, while the one in the shadows appears more yellow, even though the squares are the exact same color.

When it comes to the dress, the answer is a bit more complicated, though. The image of the dress is a close-up without much contextual information, so our brains have to rely on other factors to analyze it. People seeing the dress as white and gold, says AsapScience, are probably viewing the image in a naturally lit room, for example, whereas those who see it as black and blue are likely in an artificially lit setting. There's also a chance the image doesn't present enough visual cues for our brains to interpret, leaving it up to us to process the picture using other cues we've learned over time.

So what color do you see? Check out the image on Swiked's Tumblr page, and be sure to let us know in comments what color you think the dress is.

Are you team #blackandblue or team #whiteandgold? Video screenshot by Anthony Domanico/CNET