Colour Perception: Much More Than Just 50 Shades

I bet we all remember the great dress debacle on the internet two years ago? You know when you cannot decide if this dress is blue or white? If you’re still holding grudges against your mates, grab your phone and tell them, “everyone perceives colour in a different way”. If they are still arguing with you, then grab a seat because I am going to tell you about human’s colour perception.

It is true that our perception to colour depends on many aspects, like our environment and community. A native African tribe can identify more shades of green than us who live in the urban setting. While those who live in the city can differentiate much more shades of blue, something that the African cannot do.

The Himba maybe having their own version of green upon looking at the picture above.

Image Credit: Sorounge via Flickr.

Me and my colour perception

I am no stranger to this phenomenon. I still remember when my boyfriend and I first started seeing each other. We were on Elizabeth Street. I just finished my exam. We were on our way to dinner. And my friend caught us walking in the street. When we got home, I got a text from the very same friend – teasing me with my redhead boyfriend.

Hold on a second, redhead boyfriend? I texted him and his reply surprised me. He is indeed a ginger, although he said he is becoming less ginger as he grows older. But still, he insisted when he was a kid he could fit to be another Weasley.

But does that count me as a colour blind? I can assure you I am not. I had it checked before I came to Melbourne. My excuse is simple – my eyes are not used to seeing people with light coloured skin and hair.

It is dynamic

I am Indonesian, born and raised in South East Asia. We are like the melting pot for the South and East Asia. Growing up, all I know is people with yellow, or sometimes tanned, skin and dark hair. It made us compatible with the forever summer climate around the equator. My first time seeing a Caucasian face to face? Maybe on my first trip to Bali with my parents. I was 9 years old.

My environment and society while I was growing up shaped my colour perception. I can probably distinguish darker colour better than lighter colour. That’s why, for me, the concept of being a ginger, strawberry blonde, or brunette, is still baffling.

Up until today, scientists are still researching about colour perception. Well-developed languages, like English, Japanese, and Germany, have 11 basic colour terms. Language also influenced colour perception. The Jahai people in Malay Peninsula group the colour red and blue together. They said both colour are husband and wife and should stay together.

Do you see seven colours on the rainbow? Or maybe less? Image Credit: Sean MacEntee via Flickr

So, now let’s think about rainbow? My primary school teacher told me rainbow has seven colours. Do you agree? Or not? Does your culture believe in the seven colours of rainbow just like most of human population? Or you have a different perception of rainbow colours?


8 Responses to “Colour Perception: Much More Than Just 50 Shades”

  1. Imogen Wallace says:

    How interesting! I have never considered the effect of ethnicity and environment on our senses! I wonder if taste and smell differ also?

    Great article 🙂

  2. Thanks, Soumya. Yes. Colour perception is unique!

  3. Hey Kimberley, thanks for commenting. I don’t think you should avoid the colour blue all together. Just be mindful about them.

  4. Hey Jennifer, it’s because in the African jungle, they don’t get to see that much shade of blue like we do in the city.
    Glad you appreciate the title. I’m quite proud myself!

  5. Soumya Mukherjee says:

    Color perception is unique ……. its complex and how brain and eye co-ordinate to make that happen. Color, shades does depend on your environment. Nice piece …… great hook at the start.

  6. Kimberley Reid says:

    Great post and something I have wondered about before. I was engaged until the end.
    So, if anyone is going to rural Africa to present their research, they should avoid blue figures?

  7. Jennifer Feinstein says:

    Also appreciate your title (hehe)

  8. Jennifer Feinstein says:

    Interesting topic and article. I liked that you brought in your own personal experience as well as other cultures. I’m curious why people in Africa cannot differentiate amongst many different shades of blue versus us in the city?