Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 244-261

First online:

Richer color experience in observers with multiple photopigment opsin genes

  • Kimberly A. JamesonAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of California at San Diego Email author 
  • , Susan M. HighnoteAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of California at San Diego
  • , Linda M. WassermanAffiliated withUniversity of California at San Diego School of Medicine


Traditional color vision theory posits that three types of retinal photopigments transduce light into a trivariate neural color code, thereby explaining color-matching behaviors. Thisprinciple of trichromacy is in need of reexamination in view of molecular genetics results suggesting that a substantial percentage of women possess more than three classes of retinal photopigments. At issue is the question of whether four-photopigment retinas necessarily yield trichromatic color perception. In the present paper, we review results and theory underlying the accepted photoreceptor-based model of trichromacy. A review of the psychological literature shows that gender-linked differences in color perception warrant further investigation of retinal photopigment classes and color perception relations. We use genetic analyses to examine an important position in the gene sequence, and we empirically assess and compare the color perception of individuals possessing more than three retinal photopigment genes with those possessing fewer retinal photopigment genes. Women with four-photopigment genotypes are found to perceive significantly more chromatic appearances in comparison with either male or female trichromat controls. We provide a rationale for this previously undetected finding and discuss implications for theories of color perception and gender differences in color behavior.