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How Do We See Color?

How Do We See Color?

The eyes are one of the most important and interesting parts of the human body. In a previous post, we discussed fifteen fascinating facts about the eyes. From the fact that an infant’s eyes don’t produce tears until they are upwards of a month to four months old, to debunking the myth that your eyes are the same size from birth to adulthood, there is a lot to learn about vision. 

In this article, we want to dive a little deeper into one of the most compelling subjects regarding vision: how we see and perceive color.


The Organ That Actually Does the Seeing

“Your eyes focus on about fifty unique objects each second and can distinguish between roughly ten million different colors.” - Fifteen Fun Facts About Eyes.

The answers to how we perceive color begin with understanding which organ actually does the seeing. While your eyes send the information to your mind, it is your brain that actually sees what they are presenting. The tissues in your eye that function together deliver messages to your brain that inform you what you're seeing. Light rays reflect off what you're looking at and enter your eyes via the cornea.

When light falls on an object, it absorbs a portion of the light while reflecting the remainder of it. The cornea is the part of the eye where information from the reflected light enters. The cornea then bends light to the pupil, which governs how much light reaches the lens. The lens sends the light to the retina, where things really get interesting. 

What Cones and Rods Have to Do With Color

Rods and cones are the two types of light-detecting and responding cells in your retina.  When you're in low or dim light, rods are engaged. In brighter conditions, cones are stimulated. There are around 6 million cones and 110 million rods in your eyes, helping send the right information to your brain so it can see clearly. 

If you were to see something like a falling autumn leaf, the number of cones that were stimulated and the quality of their signal are processed by the brain. Once those nerve impulses have been interpreted by your brain, it sees a color. 

If you see the leaf in the light of day, it will appear as red, orange, yellow, or green. If you see that same leaf at night, it will just appear as some shade of gray.

Color Is a Matter of Perception

Do you remember the controversy about the dress a few years ago? Was it white and gold or black and blue? While you may have disagreed vehemently with someone you know about the color combination, in most cases, people perceive colors similarly. What you see and perceive as red will be the same as your peers. How we all have to agree on what color is what has everything to do with our experiences. 

Color perception is influenced by your previous visual experiences with items. Color constancy is the term for this behavior. Color constancy ensures that an object's perceived color remains consistent under varying lighting conditions. 

Do You Have Color Impairment?

You may find yourself disagreeing about the color of an object more often than just when there is a viral social media meme meant to stir controversy. Approximately 8% of men and 1% of women have some sort of color impairment. 

Many people who suffer from color blindness are unaware that the colors they perceive as identical appear differently from others. While most people with colorblindness still perceive color, although different colors are communicated to the brain in different ways.

Red and green dichromatism is the most prevalent visual impairment, in which red and green appear to be indistinguishable. There are other color combinations that affect different people; however, total color blindness is quite uncommon.

If you struggle with color blindness, you may or may not be aware that your color vision differs from that of others. Until you have your eyes tested and discover that your color perception is abnormal, the colors you see are natural to you. 

For those who suspect they may have color blindness, the team at Asheville Vision and Wellness is happy to help you determine your level of color impairment. Regardless of the colors you see, your brain needs your eyes to keep sending the information it needs to see. That means you need to care for your eyes. 

The eye care professionals at Asheville Vision and Wellness are here to keep your most fascinating organs working optimally. Contact us today to schedule an eye exam and get advice on how to properly care for your eyes and vision.