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Stripping #The Dress: the importance of contextual information on inter-individual differences in colour perception


In 2015, a picture of a Dress (henceforth the Dress) triggered popular and scientific interest; some reported seeing the Dress in white and gold (W&G) and others in blue and black (B&B). We aimed to describe the phenomenon and investigate the role of contextualization. Few days after the Dress had appeared on the Internet, we projected it to 240 students on two large screens in the classroom. Participants reported seeing the Dress in B&B (48%), W&G (38%), or blue and brown (B&Br; 7%). Amongst numerous socio-demographic variables, we only observed that W&G viewers were most likely to have always seen the Dress as W&G. In the laboratory, we tested how much contextual information is necessary for the phenomenon to occur. Fifty-seven participants selected colours most precisely matching predominant colours of parts or the full Dress. We presented, in this order, small squares (a), vertical strips (b), and the full Dress (c). We found that (1) B&B, B&Br, and W&G viewers had selected colours differing in lightness and chroma levels for contextualized images only (b, c conditions) and hue for fully contextualized condition only (c) and (2) B&B viewers selected colours most closely matching displayed colours of the Dress. Thus, the Dress phenomenon emerges due to inter-individual differences in subjectively perceived lightness, chroma, and hue, at least when all aspects of the picture need to be integrated. Our results support the previous conclusions that contextual information is key to colour perception; it should be important to understand how this actually happens.

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We wish to thank Loïc Gigandet and Simona Scopazzini for collecting part of the data. We also wish to thank AkzoNobel, Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) Limited, in particular Dr David Elliott, Dr Tom Curwen and Peter Spiers, Color R&I team, Slough, UK, and Stephanie Kraneveld, Sassenheim, the Netherlands, for having supported our empirical work on colours and emotions.


 The research was supported by the Institute of Psychology, University of Lausanne and the Swiss National Science Foundation Doc. CH fellowship grant to DJ (P0LAP1_175055).

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Correspondence to Domicele Jonauskaite.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. No specific ethical clearance was received for this study, as it was not required by the Canton of Vaud in Switzerland law.

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Jonauskaite, D., Dael, N., Parraga, C.A. et al. Stripping #The Dress: the importance of contextual information on inter-individual differences in colour perception. Psychological Research 84, 851–865 (2020).

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