#TheDress Debate Highlights Problems With Eyewitness Testimony
Did you see white and gold or black and blue? Or were you one of those people who first saw one combination of colors, but watched as #TheDress seemed to change colors in front of your very eyes?
The Internet became captivated recently by a photo of a striped dress that some people saw as white with gold accents, but other people saw as blue with black accents. Some people saw the dress as one set of colors, glanced away, and saw a different and seemingly contradictory set of colors when they looked back. Arguments between #TeamWhiteAndGold and #TeamBlueAndBlack broke out across social media, and #TheDress became the top trending topic on Twitter.
At the heart of social media chatter and debate over #TheDress is the fallibility of human perception, and how what we see can’t necessarily be believed. We all think that if we see something “with our own eyes” that it must be incontrovertibly true — and so those who see white and gold insist that those who see blue and black must be wrong, and vice versa.
In reality, because of the ambiguities in the way the photo of the dress is lit and exposed, it’s entirely possible for two people to look at the same photo and see entirely different things because of the way our brains fill in missing information to complete a picture. When we look at colors, we see them in context with what’s around them. In the case of the photo of the dress, New Scientist says that our brains interpret the color based on an imagined light source. Some people’s brains look at the picture and the context and fill in the colors with white and gold, while other people’s brains fill it in with blue and black.
As a criminal defense lawyer, this debate very much reminds me of how witnesses often come into court, or pick someone out of a police line-up, and think that what they saw and remembers must be true. However, witnesses can fill in missing information in their minds the same way that we do when we look at the picture of the dress. Just because a witness saw it, doesn’t mean that what they saw was accurate.
There have been any number of studies that show eyewitness testimony can be unreliable, and that people often don’t remember events accurately. Our eyes are not cameras that take perfect snapshots of what’s in front of us. As the example with the dress shows us, our brains can interpret visual information in a way that’s different than reality.
Additionally, our memories aren’t video recorders, and we can’t just push a button and get perfect playback of a moment in our lives. Witnesses often are testifying months or even years after an alleged crime happened — and it’s entirely possible that in the intervening time those memories have shifted or their brains have filled in missing information — just like with the dress.
So, in the end, what color is the dress? According to the retailer’s website, Team Blue and Black are the winners, even though Team White and Gold will swear what they saw was true.
The Pittsburgh criminal defense attorneys at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC offer experienced and zealous representation for people charged with crimes. Call us today at (412) 281-2146 for a free consultation about your case.