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What Colour is This Shoe?

Credit: @RadDates, Twitter

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Just when you thought it was safe to go back on social media, a new controversy has erupted. The question dividing opinions across the internet is now, "Do you see a pink shoe with white laces, or a grey shoe with blue laces?" 

Whether you heard "Yanny" or "Laurel", saw a white dress or a black one, or heard a pylon thumping the ground as it played skip-rope, you will not be surprised to find out that people see different colours, and they are certain their viewpoint is correct. 

Seeing is believing

If we can't believe our eyes, what can we believe? A quick save of the image and a reopening in an image-editing program allows for analysis of the tones making up the low-res image. Hovering over the pinkest/greyest part of the shoe reveals the colour is actually a muddy grey tone. However, a quick auto adjustment of the levels to improve the brightness in the dark picture, turns those tones to a muddy-pink/pinkish-grey.

Adjustment of the levels, makes the image brighter, but does it change the colour you see? 

So why do we see different colours? No explanations from scientists have been forthcoming, yet. However, prior explanations for the Yanny and Laurel phenomenon suggested that because the frequency of the sounds are very similar our interpretation of them might depend on prior experiences. 

For example, have you ever considered how two people agree a rose smells like a rose if they have never smelt roses before?

If they have smelt other flowers, or perfumes or scents, they may have accrued enough sensory evidence to enable them to reach the conclusion that they are both smelling a rose. This was recently explained using a mathematical model.

Meaning if we have accrued evidence of similar colour pairing, or colours of this style of shoe in the past, this could affect our perception of the shoe's colour in this ambiguous image.

So, whichever colour you see, your perception is based on your past experiences as your brain draws on this evidence to find meaning in the scene in front of you. 

Meet the Author
Adam Tozer PhD
Adam Tozer PhD
Science Writer