Look at a spot on the wall. Now close your left eye, then open it and close your right eye. Notice anything different about the color of the wall? Some of you may have noticed a slight blue or red tint when you closed an eye. This probably means each of your eyes perceive colors differently.
This is something that is quite unique. It’s not a condition that affects a lot of people to the point that it is visible. The most fascinating part about this strange phenomenon is that despite affecting a large number of people, it is highly under-researched. This condition seems to have no serious impact on the eyes but nevertheless begs the question, why does each eye see colors differently?
How Do We Perceive Color?
The human eye is quite complex and evolved. One thing our eyes do better than any other seeing animal is perceive color. This ability influences every part of our life from decorating our homes, to dressing ourselves, to even the smallest of things like buying colored bobby pins. To understand these tints in our eyes, it’s important to know how we’re able to see color in the first place.
The part of our eye that allows us to see colors is the retina. The retina is the light-sensitive part of the eye. Here, there are photoreceptors called cones and rods. There are over six million cones in our retina and there are three types of cones that detect greens, reds or blues.
We also have rods in our retina that are monochromatic which dim and adjust brightness. These rods, though important to interpreting light can only perceive shades and not color.
How does color get to these receptors in the first place? First, there needs to be light. Color is unperceivable without light. The light bounces off the object and into the eye. Through the cornea (or the lens of the eye), the light is refracted to the retina where the cones and rods are set in motion.
Neurons within the retina, called ganglion cells, take information from the cones to sort out how many green and red and how many blue and yellow colors are being seen. These color signals are then separated into three color groups (green/red, blue/yellow, brightness) before being sent to the brain through electrical impulses.
It’s astounding how quickly our eyes work through this complicated process just to see things in color. With it being such a precise process as well, even the slightest difference in one eye can cause these different tints. This is one potential reason that a person’s eyes see the same color differently. Our eyes are not always identical.
That being said, it’s easy to confuse asymmetrical eyes with color blindness. Color blindness and seeing the same color differently through each eye are not the same at all.
What is Color Blindness?
Color blindness is a condition that impedes a person from distinguishing between certain colors. It doesn’t mean they can’t see color, but rather they have trouble telling the difference between shades of red and pink, for example. Color blindness often affects the way someone sees green and red hues, but can occasionally affect blues as well.
Color blindness can happen when there is something askew with the cones in the retina. The cone cells may be absent or non-functional, or they can also be functional but detect a different color than normal.
When color blindness is mild, meaning their cones are functional but detect unusual colors, the person can normally distinguish colors under good lighting, but may have difficulty in poor or dim lighting. Severe color blindness, when there are many absent cones in the retina, makes it difficult to distinguish color in any light.
Usually color blindness is something a person is born with, but it can also develop later in life. This is rare though because color blindness is a stable condition that remains so for a person’s entire life. It will also affect both eyes equally.
Perceiving the same color differently through each eye does not mean you are color blind. If you think you may be color blind, make an appointment with your eye professional for an eye exam.
Otherwise, you have nothing to worry about. When perceiving the same color differently, it means both eyes are different. The difference is within the normal range of color and therefore cannot be attributed to color blindness.
Why Do I See Colors Differently?
Although no definite answer to this question has been found, studies are in the works to find out more about this nameless condition. What we do have are some fairly convincing theories floating around that attempt to explain these tints.
First thing’s first: these tints are not harmful to the eyes, which could be the reason why doctors are not jumping on tints to research them. Most of the time, these tints are so subtle that you could go your whole life without ever noticing them. But humans are a curious species. “Just because,” is never a suitable answer.
One reason why eyes may differ when it comes to perceiving colors is chalked up to the fact that the cone’s cell density in each eye may be different. One eye may have a denser red receptor, meaning you may see a red tint when looking out through that eye only.
Another reason could be due to the yellowing of the crystalline lens. As we age, the crystalline lens yellows. It’s part of the natural aging process of the eye. As it yellows, the lens will let in less and less blue light. One eye could potentially yellow faster than the other, creating an imbalance in the color being perceived.
Even the tiniest of differences in the retina’s cones, rods or neurons can cause these tints. No one is created perfectly, so to expect perfection from our eyes, even when it comes to seeing color, is unrealistic. In fact, it seems to make more sense that we see colors differently through each eye.