A few weeks ago, the Internet was deep in heated argument over the color of a dress. After a photo of a dress that appeared to be either blue and black or white and gold, depending on the viewer, went viral seemingly to every corner of the web, offices were split, couples squabbled, and Facebook turned into a battleground. Now, maker of a popular genetics kit 23andMe has issued a new report on “The Dress,” and why it appears differently to different people.
And what did 23andMe find? In a research project of approximately 25,000 customers who agreed to participate in research on the dress, there did not appear to be a clear genetic association with whether a person saw a blue and black dress or a white and gold dress. While there was a small effect size for a gene related to light perception, it didn’t play a major role in what color people saw in the dress.
But what did matter, says computational biologist Fah Sathirapongsasuti, is age, gender, eye health, and–surprisingly–the size of the community the respondent grew up in.
Sathirapongsasuti says his research found that up until the age of 20, respondents were split evenly between what colors they saw. But as respondents aged, the proportion of white-and-gold sightings increased until the age of 60. At that point, more than 75% of respondents said they saw white and gold colors in the dress. This effect was even stronger in male respondents. He told Fast Company that was the most surprising part of the study to him. At and above age 70, however, slightly more than half of respondents saw blue and black.
Respondents with cataracts were 50% more likely to see the dress as blue and black, but other eye conditions such as color blindness and age-related macular degeneration didn’t have much effect on what color they saw on “The Dress.”
Interestingly, there was also a correlation between where a respondent grew up and what colors they saw in the dress. More than 66% of respondents who grew up in a large city saw the dress as white and gold, compared with less than 60% of rural respondents.
This author, who grew up in America’s largest city, sees a blue and black dress. He still doesn’t get how the dress could seem to be white and gold.