Tomato, Tomahto - Perspectives No. 128

Tomato, Tomahto

Perspectives No. 128

Photograph of Two Tomatoes

   For many years now, Ann and I have had a running debate about the color green. Specifically, the greens I mix and use in my landscape paintings vs. the greens she mixes for hers. She thinks my greens tend toward the too-blue side and I often find that her greens, especially in foliage, tend toward the too-yellow. She claims that she just sees the colors differently than I do, and to that, there is no logical rebuttal. We can never see eye-to-eye, so to speak, on this subject, and now we may know why.

   There is an article by Libby Copeland in the March 2013 Smithsonian magazine that reveals new research on the differences in perception and visual acuity between the sexes. Neuroscientists, led by Israel Abramov at CUNY’s Brooklyn College, administered a series of visual tests to a group of men and women, and the results are illuminating. Abramov has spent fifty years studying human vision and the neural mechanisms that determine how we perceive colors.

   While men have an advantage in detecting distant, moving objects, the scientists discovered that women are better at distinguishing among subtle gradations in the middle of the color spectrum, the area which includes yellows and greens. They detected very small differences between yellows that men could not perceive. The scientists also found that a given green will appear more blue-green to men.  Abramov says that this demonstrates that “the nervous system that deals with color cannot be wired in the exact same way in males and females.” Aha!

   Ms. Copeland speculates that further studies may tell us whether these differences could have implications for how men and women create art. We think that Dr. Abramov ought to test a group of artists if he really wants to get some hair-splitting visual data. Having spent forty years learning to see fine color distinctions, Ann and I would probably make interesting subjects, although our results would not be comparable to the average norm, for that very reason. Its nice to know that at last we can relax about the issue of our different views about the color green, secure in the knowledge that it isn’t right or wrong - its just genetic.

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