How Do We See Color and Do We All See Color The Same Way?

How we see color is a complex scientific process. The idea that we could possibly see color differently adds a personal and more abstract component to that process. It is that personal touch that makes the often-used phrase “there are many shades of grey” a reality.

We all see color slightly differently. This needs to be explained from both a scientific and individualistic viewpoint. The scientific answer to how we see color is as follows.

Scientific Reasoning

Our eyes and brain work together to translate light into color. The rods and cones (light receptors) in our eyes send messages to our brain which produce the sensation of color. In bright light the cones go into action and pick up the colors that are reflected off an object but not those that are absorbed. The surface of an object reflects some colors and absorbs all the others. We can see only reflected colors (Pantone).

But what about people who cannot see those colors that are reflected off an object and their differences?

People who are color blind cannot see differences in color. There is either a defect in their cones or an absence of them and thus they cannot see color differences in bright light.

But to answer the question of why we see color differently we must dig a little deeper. It is thought that some people have additional cones in their retinas that allow them to perceive colors more definitively and then transmit them to their brain. This is one of the reasons we all do not see colors in the same way and can make a better description of the colors we see (bluish red vs yellowish red).

Rods are used when there is dim light or darkness. Rods cannot see color. They only see shades of gray and signal that to the brain. In dim light some people see colors of some objects because their memory kicks in and reminds them of what those objects look like in bright light.

It is important to note that our memories also play a part in how we see color and is another reason why we all see colors differently.

There are two more reasons why we see color differently, but they are a little more abstract.

The first one has to do with our mood/emotions. It has been shown that certain colors evoke particular emotions;

  • Red: Passionate, aggressive, important
  • Orange: Playful, energetic
  • Yellow: Happy, friendly, warning
  • Green: Natural, stable, prosperous
  • Blue: Serene, trustworthy, inviting
  • Violet: Luxurious, mysterious, romantic
  • Pink: Feminine, young, innocent
  • Brown: Earthy, sturdy, rustic
  • Black: Powerful, sophisticated, edgy
  • White: Clean, virtuous, healthy
  • Grey: Neutral, formal, gloomy
  • Beige: Accentuates surrounding colors

I am sure we all have felt the passion of a red rose, the innocence attached to a baby’s pink face, or the gloom of a gray storm cloud. These are just a few examples of how colors affect our moods and emotions.

The second one has to do with our surroundings.

How many of us enjoy the calming effect of being on the beach looking at the blue ocean under a blue sky? When we see a red rose, we feel the passion and see beauty in its petals. When we are working in the garden we see and feel the earthiness of the brown soil that we are turning or planting. When we want to paint our new baby’s room we may think of friendly yellow or the clean and healthiness of white. There are many other examples of how the colors of our surroundings can affect us differently.

To sum things up regarding why we see colors differently both in a scientific and a more abstract way, look at the following;

  • It is thought that some people have additional cones in their retinas that allow them to perceive colors more definitively and then transmit them to their brain.
  • It is important to note that our memories also play a part in how we see color and is another reason why we all see colors differently.
  • It has been shown that color can evoke certain emotions. Red for example can make us feel passion or aggression.
  • It has been shown that the color of our surroundings can influence the way we feel and interpret color. The blue of the ocean may calm us, or a yellow flower may make us happy.

I hope you now can understand how and why we all do not see color in the same way. Maybe you will now answer the question; do we all see color in the same way and truly understand that there are many shades of gray. If you have further questions please click the picture below to contact us!

Citation

Pantone. “Pantone – Pantone: Buy Pantone Guides: Color Tools: Color Inspiration.” About Us, www.pantone.com/.

By |November 13th, 2020|Blog|0 Comments

About the Author:

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James P. Bernard is Vice President of Colorants at First Source Worldwide. His skill at problem solving has led him through 48 years in the dye industry across virtually all areas of dye use. Once, he advised a university how to dye a bee population destroying crops. Now that’s strategic color management.