Matt Haarington

Matt Haarington

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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What We Can Learn from A Stupid Dress on the Internet

There are two types of people in this world: Those who know what the title of this article means, anddress-7 those who died before last Thursday.  Among that first group, there are those who say the dress is white and gold, and those who say that it is black and blue.

Let’s catch up for people who still may not know what I’m talking about.  Remember the old picture that’s drawn to look like either a duck or a rabbit, and we’re asked which animal we see first?  This is the internet’s version of that.  Briefly, at a recent wedding in Scotland, the mother of the bride wore a black and blue dress.  When a picture of the dress was posted online, it became clear that many people saw the dress as white and gold.  It went viral in a matter of hours as literally millions of people could not agree on what they were seeing.  (Read the New York Times article on it for a picture of the dress and the full story.)  The explanations for this are mostly variations about how people perceive different colors under different lighting conditions.

The problem is that these explanations can’t be true.  People who are standing right next to each other, staring at the same picture under the same conditions, are seeing the dress in radically different colors.  And it’s not just one in a thousand people seeing it differently, it’s pretty much half the population of the internet not seeing the same thing that the other half is seeing.  This dress may be the best example yet of how we’re wired to see things differently.

And what are we learning from this?  We’re learning how easily shocked we are to discover that there are many people who don’t see things the same way we see it.

Maybe a stupid dress can help us take pause to consider why others might believe something differently than we do.  Maybe it’s not because we’re smart and they’re stupid, or they’re Republicans and we’re Democrats, or we go to church and they root for the Yankees.  Maybe we might learn that sometimes people believe things because that’s just who they are.

By the way, the dress is white and gold.


Matt Haarington, MPH, MSHI is an advisor on public policy and health care issues for Social Justice Solutions.  He is the author of The Spider and the Wasp, which is the funniest book you’ll ever read about being traumatized.


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