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Eye Health: New research points to visual connection for those suffering from case of winter blues

By Dr. Dawn Stratton
KyForward columnist

I hope all of you are enjoying the holiday season. With winter officially beginning, I thought you would be interested in new research on how our color perception changes between seasons.

Scientists at England’s University of York have shed new light on how humans process color that reveals we see things differently in winter compared with summer.

We identify four unique hues – blue, green, yellow and red – that do not appear to contain mixtures of other colors. Unique yellow is particularly interesting to scientists because everyone agrees what unique yellow looks like despite the fact that people’s eyes are often very different.

Researchers in the University’s Department of Psychology wanted to discover why this color is so stable and what factors might make it change.

PhD student and lead author of the research Lauren Welbourne said, “We are finding that between seasons our vision adapts to changes in environment. In summer, when there is a much larger amount of foliage, our visual system has to account for the fact that, on average, we are exposed to far more green. In York, you typically have grey, dull winters. Our vision compensates for those changes and that changes what we think ‘yellow’ looks like. It’s a bit like changing the color balance on your TV.”

The researchers tested men and women in January and June. Participants were placed in a darkened room, allowed to adjust to the light and then on a machine called a colorimeter asked to adjust a dial until they felt they had reached the point where it had reached unique yellow – with no hint of a green or red.

“This is the first time natural changes in the environment have been shown to affect our perception of color. Although there’s no disorder that this can fix, the more we learn about how vision and color in particular is processed, the better we can understand exactly how we see the world,” adds Welbourne.

Have a wonderful holiday season. See you in January.

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Dr. Dawn Stratton is the founder of Stratton Eyes. She is a graduate of Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago and earned her Doctor of Optometry in 1994. Based in Lexington, Dr. Stratton is a member of American Optometric Association, the Kentucky Optometric Association, the National Association of Professional Women and the Fellowship of Christian Optometrists. She also provides eye exams for patients at the Hope Center, Room at the Inn and The Nest. Visit Stratton-Eyes.com for more information or call 859-245-2020 or email office@strattoneyes.com. You can also find the office on Facebook and on Twitter @StrattonEyes.

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