Colorful memories

By • Published: January 4th, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

When you think of a banana, it is a pretty safe bet that it is not blue.

Everyone “knows” bananas are yellow because of countless encounters with them in lunch sacks, grocery stores and… if you’re lucky… ice cream sundaes.

But it may be that our certainty of any object’s color actually determines how we perceive the color.

Recent findings in the journal Nature Neuroscience show color perception depends not only on an object’s pigmentation, but also on our knowledge of what the object should look like.

Using digital images of bananas on gray backgrounds, scientists asked volunteers to peel away all of the color.

Even when every bit of color was removed from the bananas, people still thought the bananas were slightly yellow.

People actually added blue… a cooler color compared to the warmer yellow… to compensate for non-existent yellowness.

The results suggest our perception of an object’s color is a combination of visual information and our expectations about what color an object should be.

While this might seem… well… bananas… the influence of our brains on visual perception may actually serve a purpose.

In conditions where our sight is drastically impaired… think of trying to find a midnight snack during a power outage… we can still efficiently identify objects.

Our memory fills in the blanks when vision fails us.

Now, if we can only get it to fill in the gaps between scoops of ice cream, we will really be in business.