A world devoid of color is a gray and bleak one. Despite this, the specific benefits of color vision are difficult to quantify. Picasso said flippantly “when I run out of blue I use red” by which he meant that it is the brightness (or value) of a pigment and not its color that describes the 3-dimensional shape of objects. Matisse demonstrated this point beautifully in his painting La Femme au Chapeau (The Woman in the Hat, Paris, 1905; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). A grayscale version shows that the values of the pigments preserve the shape of the woman’s face quite well: the color transitions do not interfere with an accurate representation of the play of light across her face (Livingstone, 2002). That the painting reads well as a face despite the radical color transitions shows that color is not an important cue to shape. Indeed, object shapes are easily recognizable even in dim light when color vision is absent. Moreover, many people function perfectly well with impaired color perception: as many as one in twelve men are red-green color-blind and many of them are unaware of it. But color cues are useful. In monkeys, for example, they assist the discrimination of nutritional foods (e.g. red berries) and of suitable procreative partners (e.g. male birds with the most colorful feathers).
KeywordsReceptive Field Color Vision Lateral Geniculate Nucleus Color Perception Color Constancy
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