Humans See Color Yellow Differently In Summer And Winter

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In a surprising development, if you look at a yellow vase on your mantle in June, you will see a slightly more greenish yellow vase than you did when you looked at it six months before in January. That right, the latest research indicates that human color perception changes with the seasons, or perhaps more accurately, human visions adapts to the changing seasons.

Lauren Welbourne, lead author of the new study elucidating this discovery notes: “It’s a bit like changing the color balance on your TV.”

The new research on the color yellow was published in Current Biology on August 3rd.

More on human seasonal perception of the color yellow

For background, keep in mind that yellow is one of four “unique hues” seen with human vision, together with blue, green, and red. This results in these colors being perceived by the eye as ‘pure’ colors that are not mixed with any other colors.

Yellow is, however, perhaps the most unique of the ‘unique’ colors. Unlike other colors, the large majority of people agree on what ‘real’ yellow looks like, despite individual differences in visual perception.

This difficult to understand phenomenon led Welbourne and the other researchers to wonder if color yellow being seen as the same by so many people was caused by environmental reasons rather than physiological reasons.

The study asked 67 men and women in the UK to judge when a colored light had reached ‘unique yellow’ in June and in January, and the results of the research  “found a significant seasonal change in (unique yellow) settings.”

“What we are finding is that between seasons our vision adapts to changes in environment,” Welbourne said in a press release.

She went on to say she believes that human visual systems naturally try to balance how we perceive color as the colors around us change seasonally.

“In York (U.K.), you typically have grey, dull winters and then in summer you have greenery everywhere. Our vision compensates for those changes and that, surprisingly, changes what we think ‘yellow’ looks like,” she explained.

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