Remember that biology class you took way back when – the one on the anatomy of the eye? Where you learned about rods and cones? Okay, it’s probably all coming back to you now… Anyhow, most humans are trichromatic. This means their retinas contain three different kinds of color receptor cells – the cones – each type corresponding to a particular wave length. One each for short-wave, medium-wave, and long-wave light, or one red light, one for green, and one for blue. Each cone can perceive about 100 colors in its range, but the brain can combine those into millions of colors. The average viewer can distinguish about one million hues. So, why am I bringing this up? Well, I was researching for a talk I was presenting at pdxdiy.org last night, and I wanted to talk about color as light, as opposed to color as pigment.
As animals go, humans are about average when it comes to the ability to see color. Reptiles, birds and amphibians are usually Tetrachromats. Usually, this means that their fourth cone is in the ultra-violet part of the spectrum – the part we humans can’t see. Male birds with feathers seemingly not too different from the females when seen in normal light turned out to have very different feathers from their female counterparts when observed under a black light. Birds can see the UV spectrum in daylight, but we need a UV-detector to see what they see. Other mammals generally have worse color vision than humans do. Dogs and cats, for example have comparatively poor vision, which of course they compensate for with exceptional hearing and olfactory senses.
Genetically, the cones are carried on the X-chromosomes. Sometimes, there is a difference in the copies of the gene. Since there needs to be two X-chromosomes in order for this difference to occur, this particular superpower only manifests itself in women. There might be a slight variation, or there might be a marked difference – or there might not be much of a difference at all. The jackpot happens when the extra cone falls right between the usual red and green cone, in the middle of the orange part of the spectrum. The practical effect is that the woman essentially is given a fourth kind of cone! This means that her ability to distinguish between colors increases exponentially.
Studies show that only an estimated 2-3% of all women are functional Tetrachromats (meaning they hit the above mentioned jackpot), whereas about half of all women have a differing ability and sensitivity to color, per that slight variation in their cones. The 2-3% are essentially visual superheroes! I would require a genetic test as well as further research done on me to prove what I’m about to say, but I’m willing to bet I’m pretty close to the jackpot, if not there. All my life I have felt, as well as seen, color differently than most others around me. It is more of a multi-dimensional, sensory perception than simply visionary. It probably sounds very pretentious, but it is true. And, it was my uncanny ability with color that made my father gift me with my first color class for my birthday one year – an act that, while still undecided, put me well on my way toward making a career choice.
So, in conclusion, if you ever wondered why women are so much pickier about color than men – there is your answer! A lot of us are. We simply have a visual range that goes far beyond that of the majority. The visual range of a functional Tetrachromat can encompass 100,000,000 colors! That’s why!!!