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Erica L. Dixon, Arthur G. Shapiro; Spatial filtering, color constancy, and the color-changing dress. Journal of Vision 2017;17(3):7. doi: 10.1167/17.3.7.
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The color-changing dress is a 2015 Internet phenomenon in which the colors in a picture of a dress are reported as blue-black by some observers and white-gold by others. The standard explanation is that observers make different inferences about the lighting (is the dress in shadow or bright yellow light?); based on these inferences, observers make a best guess about the reflectance of the dress. The assumption underlying this explanation is that reflectance is the key to color constancy because reflectance alone remains invariant under changes in lighting conditions. Here, we demonstrate an alternative type of invariance across illumination conditions: An object that appears to vary in color under blue, white, or yellow illumination does not change color in the high spatial frequency region. A first approximation to color constancy can therefore be accomplished by a high-pass filter that retains enough low spatial frequency content so as to not to completely desaturate the object. We demonstrate the implications of this idea on the Rubik's cube illusion; on a shirt placed under white, yellow, and blue illuminants; and on spatially filtered images of the dress. We hypothesize that observer perceptions of the dress's color vary because of individual differences in how the visual system extracts high and low spatial frequency color content from the environment, and we demonstrate cross-group differences in average sensitivity to low spatial frequency patterns.
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