Does Everyone See the Same Number of Colors?

A small percentage of people are believed to be tetrachromats, meaning they may be able to see 100 million colors.
A small percentage of people are believed to be tetrachromats, meaning they may be able to see 100 million colors.

The world is a colorful place, and most people see a surprisingly large amount of it: approximately one million different shades. But imagine how much more stunning life would be if you could see 100 million hues -- or more. For a small percentage of people, it's no dream. Known as tetrachromats, they are thought to be able to see 100 times as many colors as the rest of us.

According to research, this unique ability has been found only among women and comes about thanks to the fact that instead of the three cones in each eye that most people have, tetrachromats have four. That extra cone is like a multiplier for color vision, although it doesn’t always guarantee the seemingly magical ability to see so many more colors.

Vision researchers believe that about 12 percent of women have the additional cone, but only a tiny fraction of them are true tetrachromats. Researchers are trying to learn more, but are struggling to locate tetrachromats and to definitively prove the ability. The usually reliable computer offers little help, since the pixels on computer screens fall far short of the color range being sought.

Color our world:

  • The first color a human being is able to identify is red.

  • White cars are least likely to be involved in deadly traffic accidents, while black cars are most likely.

  • Americans prefer blue: 42 percent of men and 29 percent of women chose it as their favorite in a University of Maryland poll.

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    • A small percentage of people are believed to be tetrachromats, meaning they may be able to see 100 million colors.
      A small percentage of people are believed to be tetrachromats, meaning they may be able to see 100 million colors.