How the Great Dress Debate Can Help Us Understand Learning Differences

By The Understood Team on Feb 27, 2015

What color is this dress?

Blue and black? White and gold? What about brown and blue?

If you chose any of those color combinations, chances are someone would agree with you. Social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook exploded this week as people debated and argued over the color of the dress. It seems like everyone, including celebrities and politicians, had an opinion.

I don't understand this odd dress debate and I feel like it's a trick somehow. I'm confused and scared. PS it's OBVIOUSLY BLUE AND BLACK — Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) February 27, 2015
white and gold — B.J. Novak (@bjnovak) February 27, 2015
.@CSharma33 it's clearly blue and green. — Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) February 27, 2015

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What’s going on here? Everyone from Wired to The Wall Street Journal published explanations of the science behind why the dress looks different to different people. The basic answer—our brains all perceive color slightly differently. According to the WSJ:

...because our retinal sensors and brains are slightly different, our perception of color can vary. The dress is a particularly striking example of the phenomenon because its colors aren’t close to pure red, pure green or pure blue, but instead are a complex mixture of those colors.

Those brain-based differences can also extend to information collected by all our senses. And that’s why one person may see a color or letter, or hear a word differently than someone else. Our in-house expert Bob Cunningham explains:

As learners, we don’t just see things as they really are. Our brains actually have to interpret information gathered through our senses. We refer to this interpretation as processing. And no two people process the information in exactly the same way.

So if you see white and gold in the dress, it’s OK. It shows how brain differences really are real.

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    About the author

    The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.