Changes With The Seasons Change Our Color Perception?

As we can all already tell, the shift of seasons is slowly, but surely, coming upon us.  From the warm (sometimes humid) summer daze to the rapidly approaching snow white (or gray) winter air, there’s no surprise I’ve already heard people complain about these few chilly rainy days.  While this shift of seasons seems to alter the way people feel about their surroundings, you could say it’s also causal to how our eyes adjust to the way we perceive the world.  While pondering this thought for quite some time, I’ve finally went on to investigate.  How do our visual systems adapt to changing environments and hues of particular seasons?  Can changes between the seasons change the human color perception?  First, I started with a study that experimented the eyes’ adaption to light and dark color intensity.

Our eyes naturally perceive and adapt to different lights from season to season.  According R. Hunt’s article in the Journal of the Optical Society of America, he investigated the saturations of color change with light and dark adaptions.  His results used “binocular matches” on eight different colors when the left eye was adapting to seven different intensity levels.  While the right eye was kept adapted to one constant level (as the control), it may not appear to be nearly as great if “ordinary color matches” were made.  Although, I believe it goes to show the natural changes in color perception occasioned by changes in adaption.   The experiment’s fairly large sample size results summarized into four well-known color phenomenas:  1. While light intensity lowers at dusk, then colors gradually desaturate 2. While in an illuminated area at night, then the color white looks a pale, yellow, whereas lamps look a very saturated yellow  3. While most saturated red, orange, and greens are seen in fairly low reflectance under bright illumination 4. While fluorescent lights are dimmed, physically color stays the same, the effect is an unpleasant bluish or cold.

Now we know the changes in saturation of colors due to changing the intensity of the adapting light impacts the way we perceive colors.  However, how does this associate with displays of color in our external environment changes? Recently, researchers from the United Kingdom’s University of York are the first to claim that “between seasons our vision adapts to changes in environment”.  Simply, we associate summer with larger amounts of lush, green foliage than we do for winter because visually we account for the fact that the seasons are changing.  They hypothesized that an increase in greens would occur in summer due to shorter, rich wavelengths reflected from foliage.  Particularly, the color known as “unique yellow” interested these scientists as it’s stable across worldwide populations.  The common agreement on this color, despite the fact that everyone’s eyes are different, made this color the putative variable.  

Thinking it would depend on the biology of the eye, instead turns out it’s on the color of the natural world.  The University of York’s scientists came to accept their null hypothesis, that changes between the seasons affects the human color perception.  This means it influences the human color perception, it doesn’t change it.

So is their conclusion reasonable?  While this experiment doesn’t prove to as reliable, just yet, because the lack of a controlled double blind placebo experiment.  it’s quite normal in these early stages of science research.  In fact, it’s guaranteed that a plethora of scientists jumped at this very opportunity to fault-finding, criticize, and peer review.  Such as this article published in the IEEE Xplore Digital Library, peer reviewing similar instances of color perception by analyzing specifically the composition of daylight in any given outdoor scene.  Plus, a variety of mechanisms were demonstrated, which if combined with the University or York’s experiment could be one step closer to reassuring science’s fundamental bind.  If you don’t remember (which you all should) is as Andrew explained, “easy to disprove a hypothesis, really hard to prove one; data supporting hypothesis can also be consistent with another hypothesis,” one that maybe scientists haven’t thought of yet.

The overall findings of these studies all point towards, PhD student and lead author of University of York’s research, Lauren Welbourne statement, “This is the first time natural changes in the environment have been shown to affect our perception of color“.  Hence again, the claim as an “affect” or influence, not a change of color perception.  From this and the studies’ accuracy show that our vision of color does compensate for those grey, dull winters to the summer greenery everywhere.  The more we learn about how vision and color are specifically processed, the better we can understand how we perceive the ever-changing world.  Possibly even supporting leads to ways of diagnosing and treating visual disorders?  Guess we’ll have to wait and see.