In many parts of the world, the annual seasons come with their own colors – more green in the summer, more white and gray in the winter.
Interestingly, the change of seasons may also affect how we perceive certain colors, according to new research published in Current Biology.
The specific color in this case is yellow, and our eyes tend to interpret what ‘real' yellow looks like as being different in the winter compared to summer.
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Yellow is one of four "unique hues" perceived by the human eye, along with blue, green, and red. This distinction means that these colors are read by the eye as ‘pure' – or not mixed with any other colors.
But yellow stands alone even within the ‘unique' category. That's because most people agree on what ‘real' yellow looks like, despite individual differences between eyes.
Could stable perception of the color yellow by so many people be due to environmental reasons rather than physiological ones, researchers wondered?
To test their theory, they asked 67 men and women in the U.K. to judge when a colored light had reached ‘unique yellow' in both June and January and "found a significant seasonal change in (unique yellow) settings."
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"What we are finding is that between seasons our vision adapts to changes in environment," study author Lauren Welbourne said in the release.
She suspects that our visual systems naturally strive to balance how we perceive color as the colors around us change with the seasons - much like you might adjust the color on a TV set.
"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."
The findings won't do a lot to further medical treatment of vision problems, but they do help illuminate how vision works and how we navigate the world around us.
"The more we learn about how vision and color in particular is processed, the better we can understand exactly how we see the world," Welbourne said.