Do people see colors differently?

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I thought this was an interesting question that was raised on the comment wall in the beginning of class yesterday. I always just assumed it was a yes, but I wanted to have a more concrete answer. Ever since I found out my one friend was color blind, I always make her look at color blind tests (like ones you would see in a tanning salon) - just for my amusement. I find that amazing, a bunch of people can look at the same thing but not see it exactly the same. That kind of teeters off in an entirely different conversation about the level of blurriness that people have when they look at things, but today I just want to discuss color....



First off, I'll give a brief explanation of color even though I'm sure most of understand why we see it. As defined by Vision Scientist Mark D. Fairchild color is "a perception that depends on the response of the human visual system to light and the interaction of light with objects". Light is responsible for producing color because of how our sight works and response to colors in the spectrum, light alone can't produce colors without eyes to process the information.


An interesting thought that I never considered is that colors are perceptions that are not just brain, but how our brain is responding to the stimulus around us. How much light, what type of surface is the light hitting, what angles, and so forth. EXCEPT, in our dreams. We see many colors in our dreams with no light whatsoever (that is its own crazy concept!)


When it comes to seeing colors differently there can be different physiological differences in people's eyes, in their retina and lens that may be able to slightly change what people see. Though people typically are able to label colors close to the same.


So there isn't really a solid argument for whether or not people see completely the same. Probably because you could never literally look through someone else's eyes! Fairchild believes that "we do know enough about anatomy, physiology, and psychology of vision to be quite certain that we are seeing things the same way." But then he also  goes on to say that the small physiological differences between people can cause slight changes in color perception.


Hmmm. My hypothesis is that people may only think they can see the same because their differences in perception aren't too wildly different that we can label the colors the same. For example, if we all take a look at the color blue, we can all identify as the color "blue" we know, but who knows for sure the different hues that each person is seeing or the brightness. It's a funny thing because we can only see the world through our own eyes! So...maybe people see most of colors the generally the same, but some physical differences in the eyes may change the degree of the perceptions that we see.




Mark Dean Fairchild's Website

B.S./M.S., Imaging Science (née Photographic Science and Instrumentation)

Rochester Institute of Technology, 1986

Ph.D., Vision Science

University of Rochester, 1990

1 Comment

I thin that some people see certain colors differently. I was with my one buddy last weekend and we were leaving my dorm and I grabbed my dark blue Yankee hat and he asked me "why are you wearing a purple Yankee hat" and he said that he sees very dark blue as a dark purple, and thats the only color that he sees like that. So I dont know if that helps at all but thats just an experience that I had evolving this kind of situation.

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