Teaching #TheDress : Resources for Teachers on the Psychology behind the Dress

Here is the original post, 27 million views and counting.

Here is Virginia Hughes with an explanation based in part on my contributions.

Here are some general resources on perception and illusions

  • Michael Bach has a great website with many illusions, demonstrations and explanations.
  • I keep a bunch of illusion and perception bookmarks that you can browse on (bookmarking for introverts, perfect for me).
  • A recent issue of the excellent new science magazine, Nautilus, was devoted to illusions. Here is a nice exploration of many ambiguous figures from that issue by Tom Vanderbilt.

Here are some resources for learning more about the perception behind the dress

  • A very good explanation from Steven Pinker, seems to be targeted at his Introductory Psychology class at Harvard.
  • Pascal Wallisch with a more in-depth explanation of visual ambiguity and how it relates to your perception of this dress.
  • Stephen Macknik is a perceptual psychologist, whose work includes a lot of great studies on illusions, and popularizing illusions and what they tell us about our eyes and minds. He thinks that the differences in dress perception are mostly optical and photographic, and the differences between people are actually rather mundane (scientifically). I’m not sure I agree, but I do find it an interesting perspective, in that what drove the millions of people crazy about this dress was not that their perception was different than reality, but that their perception was different than the person sitting right next to them. Paul Ford points this putting people on two teams as one of the three vital ingredients of the virality of the dress is putting people on two teams (the other two are magic and science).
  • An explanation and perspective from a colorist (artist who mostly colors comics) Nathan Fairbarn. Some really great visual explanations here (variations in lighting, variations in dress images), as you would expect from an artist. But also really well done from a perceptual science point of view.

Broader implications (and why this isn’t just about a dress)

  • For teachers of social studies or other social sciences, Sydette Harry has a great explanation of why this isn’t just a trivial illusion, but a great exploration of how we see the world differently that has consequences for our discussions of big social issues when we have to agree on a reality. As she says

The question is really “how do we create reality in collaboration with the people around us?” — not “what color is the dress?” The latter has a simple answer: It’s blue. But every now and again, it’s nice to talk about serious questions through a topic that’s anything but.

  • Pascal Wallisch also has an excellent follow-up post, titled “Why DressGate matters” laying out why it is not trivial and has broader implications for human perception and cognition. I agree, this is not just a cool instance of a known phenomena (which is sort of is) it is interesting from a scientific perspective as well.

On individual differences in perception, not just the illusion itself:

  • Large facebook study on what people mention in their posts about the dress. If someone mentioned #blueandblack but not #goldandwhite, the facebook data team assumed which way they saw it, then crunched a bunch of other numbers to try to find relationships between gender, age, time and day and device type.
  • Vaughan Bell was (rightfully) dissatisfied that all the “science of the dress” posts only explain how people perceive color and brightness in general and could see different things in this image, not why a given person would perceive it in the way that they do.

Ok, that’s a start. Please leave your own links in the comments. I will keep updating this throughout today.