“It’s black and blue”: How ‘that dress’ might make us more open-minded

Did it happen over night for you like it did for me?

I woke up to find a friend had written a post about a dress and why some saw it as ‘black and blue’ and others as ‘white and gold’. He often writes comical posts so I thought it was a prank – the dress was clearly black and blue. No doubt about it.

This dress is blue so why do some people see it as white?

But as I popped on Facebook during the day I saw a huge number of threads about this blasted dress. It was the same on Twitter too. The internet was, it seemed, awash with dresses. I clicked on one post explaining why this illusion works and was rather shocked, when looking at a large picture of the dress, to see it was now, very clearly, white and gold.

There was almost a heated argument when Wifey and Things I & II returned home at the end of the day. Thing I and I were adamant the dress was white and gold. Wifey was incredulous and thought we were pratting about. It was bloody obvious the dress was blue and black.

By the next day, of course, the internet was full of jokes about the picture (my favourite being the Dr Who one below) and – fickle as the internet is – criticisms and Facebook posts of how fed up everyone is about the damned thing. Who cares? seemed to be the general opinion and the fuss died down.

Dr Who dress colour

I thought nothing more about it, though I wondered if the person who took the original picture ever expected it to not just go viral but super-viral, until I came across some psychology research this morning.

Psychologist William Hart has found that optical illusions – like the dress – can actually help counter “naive realism” – people’s instinctive belief that they perceive the world how it actually is. I’ll let you read a report for yourself here (it also contains a link the research itself if you wish to explore further) but basically Hart found that combining explaining to subjects about naive realism with looking at optical illusions made them more open-minded and doubtful of their perceptions when asked to judge the character of four people presented in written form and deliberately ambiguously.

So, assuming we learn something about the psychology of perception and how we’re easily and unconsciously swayed by everything around us, looking at that ‘damned dress’ might actually be beneficial not just to us but to the whole of society. Who would have thought it?

And if you don’t believe me that you can be so easily persuaded to believe things which aren’t true, take a look at this image I came across a few days ago. The list(s) aren’t complete (there’s plenty of other things I could add to both) but the point is a good one. We’re told what to think by the media every single day. In the UK, with elections fast approaching and the politicians  throwing bucket-loads of social psychology at us to gain our vote, maybe the best thing we could do to objectively weigh up the truth of their promises is spend some time looking at dresses?

What the papers tell us

The dress, by the way, is absolutely white and gold. All other opinions are wrong. End of.

About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
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12 Responses to “It’s black and blue”: How ‘that dress’ might make us more open-minded

  1. Norah says:

    Which picture made you see it as white and gold and which made you see it as black and blue?


  2. thanks – our perceptions and memories are not so great, and i will probably use the “news” post.


  3. Good pints about perception. My post scheduled for tomorrow (7 March) also mentions #thedress. I don’t expect it to go viral! Sue


  4. Oh Ken..
    It’s Blue and Black..

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Blue and black in both shots. Assuming someone misjudges the black under different lighting it could resemble gold, how can misjudge the obvious blue? Only difference between the two shots is in one it’s light blue and the other royal blue.
    Anyway, I suppose that wasn’t the point made here anyway… so I say it’s light pastel purple and argent! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • D K Powell says:

      Oh Marina that’s so funny! One of them is clearly white and gold. I’ve never known an illusion be so effective. Everyone who sees it are so determined their view is right! Which just goes to show how easily we’re fooled…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. renxkyoko says:

    Oh,my I don’t get it… there are 2 dresses, gold and white, and black and blue. Did I miss something ? :/


    • D K Powell says:

      Have you really missed this?! Where have you been hiding?! The picture on the left is the actual dress but the one on the right is how some people see it. There’s just one dress. You need to google the dress itself to get a large picture of it and then try it out on family and friends. Honestly, you’ll be amazed at how different people see the SAME dress!


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