Do the Seasons Affect How We Perceive Color?

We all associate certain patterns of colors more heavily with certain seasons. Whether it’s the bright greens and yellows of summer, the vibrant reds and oranges of autumn, the colors of our outdoor environments most definitely shift regularly. Incredibly, color is not the only thing that shifts with the seasons. In a new study conducted at the University of York in Great Britain, it was discovered that our visual systems respond and adjust to these seasonal color changes as well. This change influences how we perceive colors on a fundamental biological level.

Out of the four unique hues (blue, green, red and yellow), our eyes identify, people’s perception of yellow tended to be standard no matter who they were, where they lived, or the environment they lived in. This unique yellow was the baseline established as they began to test how people perceived the same color yellow using a colorimeter.

Participants sat in a darkened room with a colorimeter and were told to adjust it until they found this unique yellow hue (meaning there was absolutely no presence of green or red in the hue). The twist? They were tested the same way in both summer and winter. Each time, although the testing conditions were exactly the same, there were marked differences in where on the scale people felt unique yellow was.

The theory is that this change in how we perceive color is initiated by the colors that surround us in our daily environment. Essentially, the overabundance of green in the summer causes our eyes to shift how we perceive unique yellow. This shift in perception occurs in a different way in other seasons like winter because the colors of the surrounding environment are drastically different.

Overall, this study is the first of its kind that has shown that natural changes in the environment can affect our color perception. Many feel that it provides a deeper understanding of how visual processing works and will provide valuable insight in both diagnosing and treating visual perception ailments.

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