How exactly do the eyes and the brain interpret and process different colors? How we see and interpret color is probably something that we have never really thought about before. We all take it for granted. However, it’s actually a very interesting and complex process.

The process of seeing color

Light enters our retina. The light is absorbed by the photoreceptor cells which convert light to electrochemical signals. There are two types of photoreceptor cells. We have Rods and Cones. Rods are situated on the outside of the retina and help us to see better at night, and they are also responsible for our peripheral vision.

The cone cells are more in the center of the retina and allow for more focused vision, for example, viewing details and reading. Cones are also responsible for us being able to see different colors.

RGB Primary & Secondary Colors

How cone cells help with seeing color

Every color that exists is made up of a combination of the three main primary colors of light. These are, Red, Green and Blue (RGB). The reason why these three colors are the primary colors is because they are actually the only three colors that we can detect.

We have three types of cones that detect wavelengths, these wavelengths are Long – Red, Middle – Green, Short – Blue.

Spectrum Color Wavelengths

Warm & Cool Colors

Colors can be separated into two main types; warm and cool colors. Warm colors are red, yellow and orange. Cool colors are blue and green. Our eyes can detect more warm colors than cool colors. This is because the majority of the cones in our retinas are designed to detect warm colors. The difference is about 60 percent for warm color detecting cones, and 40 percent for detecting cool colors.

Objects Reflect Color

A study conducted by Isaac Newton discovered that an object itself either absorbs or reflects color. White is a combination of all colors, because it reflects all colors. When you combine all the colors of the spectrum in light, it creates white. Black objects absorb all colors and don’t reflect any wavelengths/colors, so it’s the absence of any color reflected that creates black. So a blue object reflects blue and absorbs all other colors. You only see the reflected color or wavelength.

How Eyes & Brain See Colors

Color Blindness

Color blindness happens when there is a problem with one or more of the cone pigments which detect the different color wavelengths. The type of color blindness can range from mild to severe. Complete or total color blindness does exist, but it is very rare.

Men are more prone to suffering from some sort of color blindness. Around seven percent of men, compared to only around one percent of women, have trouble differentiating between and seeing different colors.

How does the brain deal with this information?

When the information reaches the brain, it is separated into different pathways. The visual information transfers to retinal ganglion cells, and then passes to the geniculate nucleus and continues to the primary visual cortex. The primary visual cortex is the area of the brain that allows you to interpret and distinguish between different colors.



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