1. Study looks at motivations behind participation in extreme sports

    May 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Queensland University of Technology press release:

    Researchers have debunked the myth that extreme sportsmen and women are adrenalin junkies with a death wish, according to a new study.

    The research has been published in the latest edition of Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research and Practice by QUT Adjunct Professor Eric Brymer, who is currently based at Leeds Beckett University in the UK, and QUT Professor Robert Schweitzer.

    Professors Brymer and Schweitzer said extreme sports were leisure activities in which a mismanaged mistake or accident could result in death, such as BASE jumping, big wave surfing and solo rope free climbing.

    “Extreme sports have developed into a worldwide phenomenon and we are witnessing an unprecedented interest in and engagement with these activities,” Professor Brymer said.

    “While participant numbers in many traditional team and individual sports such as golf, basketball and racket sports seem to have declined over the past decade, participant numbers in extreme sports have surged, making it a multi-million dollar industry.”

    Professor Brymer said until now there had been a gross misunderstanding of what motivates people to take part in extreme sports, with many writing it off as an activity for adrenalin junkies.

    “Our research has shown people who engage in extreme sports are anything but irresponsible risk-takers with a death wish. They are highly trained individuals with a deep knowledge of themselves, the activity and the environment who do it to have an experience that is life enhancing and life changing,” he said.

    “The experience is very hard to describe in the same way that love is hard to describe. It makes the participant feel very alive where all senses seem to be working better than in everyday life, as if the participant is transcending everyday ways of being and glimpsing their own potential.

    “For example, BASE jumpers talk about being able to see all the colours and nooks and crannies of the rock as they zoom past at 300km/h, or extreme climbers feel like they are floating and dancing with the rock. People talk about time slowing down and merging with nature.”

    Professor Schweitzer said understanding motivations for extreme sports were important to understanding humans.

    “Far from the traditional risk-focused assumptions, extreme sports participation facilitates more positive psychological experiences and express human values such as humility, harmony, creativity, spirituality and a vital sense of self that enriches everyday life,” Professor Schweitzer said.

    He said because extreme sports participants found it hard to put their experiences into words, the research project had taken a new approach to understanding the data.

    “So rather than a theory based approach which may make judgements that don’t reflect the lived experience of extreme sports participants, we took a phenomenological approach to ensure we went in with an open mind,” he said.

    “This allowed us to focus on the lived-experience of extreme sport with the goal of explaining themes that are consistent with participants’ experience.

    “By doing this we were able to, for the first time, conceptualise such experiences as potentially representing endeavours at the extreme end of human agency, that is making choices to engage in activity which may in certain circumstances lead to death.

    “However, such experiences have been shown to be affirmative of life and the potential for transformation.

    “Extreme sport has the potential to induce non-ordinary states of consciousness that are at once powerful and meaningful.

    “These experiences enrich the lives of participants and provide a further glimpse into what it means to be human.”


  2. Research evaluates effectiveness of yoga in treating major depression

    May 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Care New England press release:

    When treating depression, the goal is to help individuals achieve full recovery and normal functioning. While traditional treatment such as medication or psychotherapy is effective for many patients, some may not fully recover even with these treatments. Researchers sought to determine if the addition of hatha yoga would improve treatment outcomes for these patients. They found that the benefits of yoga were less pronounced early in treatment, but may accumulate over time.

    The research, entitled “Adjunctive yoga v. health education for persistent major depression: a randomized controlled trial,” has been published in Psychological Medicine. The research was led by Lisa Uebelacker, PhD, a research psychologist in the Psychosocial Research Department at Butler Hospital, a Care New England hospital, and an associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. The team also included Gary Epstein-Lubow, MD; Ana M. Abrantes, PhD; Audrey Tyrka, MD, PhD; Brandon A. Gaudiano, PhD; and Ivan W. Miller III, PhD, of Butler Hospital and the Warren Alpert Medical School; Geoffrey Tremont, PhD and Tanya Tran of Rhode Island Hospital and the Warren Alpert Medical School; Tom Gillette of Eyes of the World Yoga; and David Strong of the University of California, San Diego.

    “The purpose of this study was to examine whether hatha yoga is effective for treating depression when used in addition to antidepressant medication,” explained Dr. Uebelacker. “We did not see statistically significant differences between hatha yoga and a control group (health education) at 10 weeks, however, when we examined outcomes over a period of time including the three and six months after yoga classes ended, we found yoga was superior to health education in alleviating depression symptoms.”

    According to Dr. Uebelacker, this is the largest study of yoga for depression to date. The team enrolled individuals with current or recent major depression who were receiving antidepressant medication and continued to have clinically significant depression symptoms. Participants were randomized into two groups – those who participated in a hatha yoga class and a control group who took part in a health education class. The intervention phase lasted 10 weeks and participants were followed for six months afterward.

    “We hypothesized that yoga participants would show lower depression severity over time as assessed by the Quick Inventory of Depression Symptomatology (QIDS), as well as better social and role functioning, better general health perceptions and physical functioning, and less physical pain relative to the control group,” said Dr. Uebelacker. “We found that yoga did indeed have an impact on depression symptoms.”


  3. Study finds link between kids’ routines, ability to regulate emotions, and weight

    May 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Ohio State University press release:

    Family structure including regular bedtimes, mealtimes and limited screen time appear to be linked to better emotional health in preschoolers, and that might lower the chances of obesity later, a new study suggests.

    “This study provides more evidence that routines for preschool-aged children are associated with their healthy development and could reduce the likelihood that these children will be obese,” said lead author Sarah Anderson of The Ohio State University.

    The study — the first to look at the connections between early childhood routines and self-regulation and their potential association with weight problems in the pre-teen years — appears in the International Journal of Obesity.

    Researchers evaluated three household routines when children were 3 years old: regular bedtime, regular mealtime and whether or not parents limited television and video watching to an hour or less daily. Then they compared those to parents’ reports of two aspects of children’s self-regulation at that same age.

    Lastly, they investigated how the routines and self-regulation worked together to impact obesity at age 11, defined based on international criteria. (The U.S. criteria for childhood obesity is set lower and would have included more children.)

    The research included 10,955 children who are part of the Millennium Cohort Study, a long-term study of a diverse population of children born in the United Kingdom from September of 2000 to January of 2002. At age 3, 41 percent of children always had a regular bedtime, 47 percent always had a regular mealtime and 23 percent were limited to an hour or less daily of TV and videos. At age 11, about 6 percent were obese.

    All three household routines were associated with better emotional self-regulation — a measure based on parents’ responses to questions such as how easily the child becomes frustrated or over-excited. Those children with greater emotional dysregulation were more likely to be obese later.

    “We saw that children who had the most difficulties with emotion regulation at age 3 also were more likely to be obese at age 11,” said Anderson, an associate professor in Ohio State’s College of Public Health.

    Anderson and her colleagues also found that the absence of a regular preschool bedtime was an independent predictor of obesity at 11. Obesity risk increased even when children “usually” had a regular bedtime, as opposed to “always.” The risk was greatest for those who had the least amount of consistency in their bedtimes.

    How persistent and independent children were at age 3 — another aspect of self-regulation — was not related to obesity risk, nor were routines associated with these aspects of self-regulation.

    The new findings build on previous research by Anderson and her colleagues showing an association between earlier preschool bedtimes and decreased odds of obesity later. Previous work published in 2010 showed in a US national sample that obesity prevalence was lowest for children who got enough sleep, had limits on screen time and ate meals with their families.

    “This research allows us to better understand how young children’s routines around sleep, meals, and screen time relate to their regulation of emotion and behavior,” Anderson said. “The large, population-based, UK Millennium Cohort Study afforded the opportunity to examine these aspects of children’s lives and how they impact future risk for obesity.”

    This research should prompt future work looking at the role of emotional self-regulation in weight gain in children and how bedtime routines can support healthy development, Anderson said.

    “Sleep is so important and it’s important for children in particular. Although there is much that remains unknown about how sleep impacts metabolism, research is increasingly finding connections between obesity and poor sleep,” she said.

    While it’s impossible from this work to prove that routines will prevent obesity, “Recommending regular bedtime routines is unlikely to cause harm, and may help children in other ways, such as through emotion regulation,” Anderson said.

    But competing family pressures including parents’ work schedules don’t always allow for consistency, Anderson pointed out.

    “As a society, we should consider what we can do to make it easier for parents to interact with their children in ways that support their own and their children’s health.”


  4. Brain tissue structure could explain link between fitness and memory

    May 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign press release:

    Studies have suggested a link between fitness and memory, but researchers have struggled to find the mechanism that links them. A new study by University of Illinois researchers found that the key may lie in the microstructure of the hippocampus, a region in the middle of the brain involved in memory processes.

    Aron Barbey, a professor of psychology, led a group of researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at Illinois that used a specialized MRI technique to measure the structural integrity of the hippocampus in healthy young adults and correlated it with their performances on fitness and memory tests. They found that viscoelasticity, a measure of structural integrity in brain tissue, was correlated with fitness and memory performance — much more so than simply looking at the size of the hippocampus.

    “Using a new tool to examine the integrity of the hippocampus in healthy young adults could tell us more about how this region functions and how to predict decline for early intervention,” Barbey said. “By the time we look at diseased states, it’s often too late.”

    Prior research led by Illinois psychology professor Neal Cohen, who is also a co-author on the new paper, demonstrated that the hippocampus is critical for relational memory and that the integrity of this region predicts a host of neurodegenerative diseases. To date, much research on the hippocampus’ structure has focused on its size.

    Studies in developing children and declining older adults have found strong correlations between hippocampal size and memory. However, size does not seem to matter as much in healthy young adults, said postdoctoral researcher Hillary Schwarb. The Illinois group looked instead at the microstructure of the tissue, using an emerging neuroimaging tool called magnetic resonance elastography. The method involves an MRI scan, but with a pillow under the subject’s head vibrating at a very low amplitude — as gentle as driving on the interstate, Schwarb said. The vibration is the key to measuring the structural integrity of the hippocampus.

    “It’s a lot like sending ripples through a still pond — if there’s some large thing like a boulder under the surface, the ripples are going to displace around it,” Schwarb said. “We are sending waves through the brain and reconstructing the displacements into a map we can look at and measure.”

    The study, published in the journal NeuroImage, found that those who performed better on the fitness test tended to also perform better on the memory task, confirming a correlation the group had noticed before. But by adding the information on the structure of the hippocampus, the researchers were able to find a possible pathway for the link. They found that the subjects with higher fitness levels also had more elastic tissue in the hippocampus. The tissue structure, in turn, was associated with memory.

    “We found that when the hippocampus is more elastic, memory is better. An elastic hippocampus is like a firm foam mattress pad that pops right back up after you get up,” said study co-author Curtis Johnson, a former graduate researcher at the Beckman Institute who is now a professor at the University of Delaware. “When the hippocampus is more viscous, memory is worse. A viscous hippocampus is like a memory-foam mattress that holds its shape even after you get up.”

    The results suggest that the viscoelasticity of the hippocampus may be the mediating factor in the relationship between fitness and memory in healthy young adults.

    “It also shows us that magnetic resonance elastography is a useful tool for understanding tissue microstructure, and that microstructure is important to cognition,” Schwarb said. “This provides us a new level of analysis for studying the human brain.”


  5. Study from past may point to what makes people happy

    May 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the British Psychological Society (BPS) press release:

    A study from the 1930s into what made people happy may have lessons for policymakers today.

    That is the conclusion of research being presented today, Wednesday 3 May 2017, to the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society in Brighton by Sandie McHugh from the University of Bolton.

    In 1938 the Bolton Evening News ran a competition for two guineas for the best letter on “What does happiness mean for you and yours?” The resulting 226 handwritten letters were transcribed by Sandie McHugh and her fellow researchers Julie Prescott, Jerome Carson and Charlotte Mackey to give an insight.

    When they analysed the accounts they found the top three themes to emerge as being connected with happiness were contentment/peace of mind, family and home and other people.

    * “Contentment” and “peace of mind” meant having “enough” rather than seeking wealth.

    * “Family and home” was seen as happy marriages, healthy children and a place for repose.

    * “Other people” meant giving to and helping others less fortunate than themselves.

    Sandie McHugh says, “These shared values helped the community get by before the NHS and the welfare state. Their pleasure time, what we would call leisure, was in the town and in the Lancashire seaside resorts, principally Blackpool. Leisure was often centred in their workplace or the local pub. The people of Bolton were agents and actors in their own leisure activities.”

    “In today’s age of information our lives and leisure are more individualistic and some commentators have suggested that companionship from social media is an illusion and of a more solitary nature. People could ask themselves whether too much of their leisure time is spent on the internet rather than with other people, and is of a passive, rather than an active nature. They should ask what they would most enjoy.”

    “Scientific research shows that enjoyment is important for happiness and wellbeing, keeping active is good for health and helping other people can be beneficial to the giver.”

    The researchers suggest that the lessons from 1938 should be learned by present-day initiatives to enhance wellbeing in towns like Bolton.

    Among the policies they favour are:

    * Wider use of public facilities such as libraries, leisure centres and schools.

    * Expansion of the voluntary sector and higher levels of participation by people as volunteers.

    * More facilities for active leisure.

    Sandie McHugh concluded, “We welcome the move of the Office for National Statistics to measure people’s wellbeing and not just look at economic measures. This helps raise awareness and can be a prompt to action. As the 2017 World Happiness Report suggests, happiness can be considered as a measure of social progress and a goal of public policy.”


  6. Study looks at possible role of genetics in food preferences

    May 2, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Experimental Biology 2017 press release:

    Have you ever wondered why you keep eating certain foods, even if you know they are not good for you? Gene variants that affect the way our brain works may be the reason, according to a new study. The new research could lead to new strategies to empower people to enjoy and stick to their optimal diets.

    Silvia Berciano, a predoctoral fellow at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, will present the new findings at the American Society for Nutrition Scientific Sessions and annual meeting during the Experimental Biology 2017 meeting, to be held April 22-26 in Chicago.

    “Most people have a hard time modifying their dietary habits, even if they know it is in their best interest,” said Berciano. “This is because our food preferences and ability to work toward goals or follow plans affect what we eat and our ability to stick with diet changes. Ours is the first study describing how brain genes affect food intake and dietary preferences in a group of healthy people.”

    Although previous research has identified genes involved with behaviors seen in eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, little is known about how natural variation in these genes could affect eating behaviors in healthy people. Gene variation is a result of subtle DNA differences among individuals that make each person unique.

    For the new study, the researchers analyzed the genetics of 818 men and women of European ancestry and gathered information about their diet using a questionnaire. The researchers found that the genes they studied did play a significant role in a person’s food choices and dietary habits. For example, higher chocolate intake and a larger waist size was associated with certain forms of the oxytocin receptor gene, and an obesity-associated gene played a role in vegetable and fiber intake. They also observed that certain genes were involved in salt and fat intake.

    The new findings could be used to inform precision-medicine approaches that help minimize a person’s risk for common diseases — such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer — by tailoring diet-based prevention and therapy to the specific needs of an individual.

    “The knowledge gained through our study will pave the way to better understanding of eating behavior and facilitate the design of personalized dietary advice that will be more amenable to the individual, resulting in better compliance and more successful outcomes,” said Berciano.

    The researchers plan to perform similar investigations in other groups of people with different characteristics and ethnicities to better understand the applicability and potential impact of these findings. They also want to investigate whether the identified genetic variants associated with food intake are linked to increased risks for disease or health problems.


  7. Study links low-fat dairy consumption to lower incidence of depression

    April 30, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Tohoku University press release:

    People who consume low-fat milk and yogurt, rather than whole-fat dairy products, are less likely to have depression, according to researchers in Japan and China.

    Dairy consumption has long been linked to a wide range of physical health benefits, but its effect on emotional health has remained unclear. Now, a new study published in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology reveals that people who consume low-fat dairy products may be less prone to depression.

    Professor Ryoichi Nagatomi of Tohoku University and colleagues in Japan and China investigated the association between whole and low-fat dairy consumption and depressive symptoms such as exhaustion, sadness, anxiety, helplessness and hopelessness. This is the first study to consider different components of dairy products (whole fat and low fat) and the occurrence of depression.

    The study involved 1,159 Japanese adults between the ages of 19 and 83. There were 897 men and 262 women, of which 31.2% and 31.7% respectively, were depressed.

    The researchers asked the participants in a questionnaire how often they consumed whole- or low-fat milk or yogurt. Depressive symptoms were evaluated using the self-rating depression scale, which consists of 20 questions and is a tool to distinguish people with and without depression.

    The result showed that people who consumed low-fat dairy products between one and four times a week are less depressed. The correlation remained even after considering other critical factors such as age, sex, health status, nutrition status and life style.

    The study found no association between whole-fat milk consumption and depressive symptoms. The researchers speculate that this is because trans-fatty acid contained in whole fat milk, which is associated with depression, cancelled out the anti-depressive effect of another milk component, tryptophan.

    The researchers note that since this was a cross-sectional study that analyzed a population at a single point in time, it could not explain what actually caused such outcomes. Other dairy products, such as cheese and butter, were not included in the study. It is also unclear whether milk or yogurt had a stronger influence. Further studies are necessary to confirm and clarify the causality of the findings.


  8. Some strategies to limit sugary drinks may backfire

    April 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    In response to policy efforts aimed at limiting individuals’ intake of sugary drinks, businesses could enact various strategies that would allow them to comply with the limits while preserving business and consumer choice. New research shows that one of these strategies – offering smaller cup sizes with free refills – can actually increase individual consumption of sugary drinks. The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    “Our research provides insight into the effectiveness of a portion limit policy,” explains behavioral scientist Leslie John of Harvard Business School, first author on the research. “We identify one circumstance – bundling – where the reduction in purchasing of sugar-sweetened beverages is likely to be realized, and another – refills – where the policy can in certain cases have an unintended consequence of increasing consumption.”

    The research was prompted by recent policy efforts, such as a 2012 regulation passed by the New York City Board of Health that restricted sugary drinks sold at restaurants and other food outlets to a maximum serving size of 16 ounces. The regulation was ultimately overturned but it generated heated debate about the appropriateness and effectiveness of addressing public health issues through such means. John and colleagues Grant Donnelly (Harvard Business School) and Christina Roberto (University of Pennsylvania) wondered what the real-life effects of such a policy might be.

    One way businesses could respond to a portion limit without sacrificing service would be to divide a large drink into two smaller servings, provided together as a bundle. In the first experiment, 623 participants came to the lab and were given an opportunity to buy either a medium or large iced tea or lemonade to drink while they completed other tasks. Importantly, the medium size was always served in one 16-oz cup, but the large was sometimes offered in one 24-oz cup and sometimes bundled as two 12-oz cups.

    The results showed that bundling seemed to diminish participants’ interest in buying the larger option: People were less likely to buy a large drink when it was bundled than when it was presented as one serving. However, it did not affect the further downstream behavior of consumption.

    But what would happen if participants were offered free refills instead of a bundle? In a second experiment, John and colleagues presented drink options to another group of 470 participants. In some cases, the large drink offered was one 24-oz drink, while in other cases it was a 16-oz drink with free refills. Having to get refills did not seem to deter participants: People were just as likely to buy a large single serving as they were a somewhat smaller serving with refills.

    Importantly, most of the people who chose to buy the drink with refills did end up getting a refill, and they tended to consume more overall: Participants consumed 44% more calories when they had a drink with refills than when they had a larger single drink.

    This may have happened, the researchers surmise, because consumers wanted to get their “money’s worth” – that is, they consumed more of the refill since they had already paid for it.

    But data from two additional experiments indicate that this unintended increase in consumption can be dampened somewhat by requiring people to get the refills themselves.

    “Taken together, these results suggest that this method of complying with a sugary-drink portion limit could have the perverse effect of increasing consumption,” the researchers write. “However, requiring the participants to stand up and walk a tiny distance to obtain their refills helped to curb it.”

    The findings underscore the role that contextual cues – such as size perception and social image concerns – play in driving what and how much we consume. Harnessing these cues provides one strategy for promoting healthy behavior that preserves individual choice and minimizes impact on businesses, but more research is needed to understand the unintended consequences such strategies might have, John and colleagues conclude.


  9. Why green spaces are good for grey matter

    April 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of York press release:

    Walking between busy urban environments and green spaces triggers changes in levels of excitement, engagement and frustration in the brain, a study of older people has found.

    Researchers at the Universities of York and Edinburgh say the findings have important implications for architects, planners and health professionals as we deal with an aging population.

    The study is part of a larger project looking at mobility, mood and place and the role of the urban environment in promoting lifelong health and wellbeing.

    The aim of the study was to understand how older people experience different urban environments using electroencephalography (EEG), self-reported measures, and interviews.

    As part of the experiment, eight volunteers aged 65 and over (from a wider sample of 95 people aged 65 and over) wore a mobile EEG head-set which recorded their brain activity when walking between busy and green urban spaces.

    The research team also ran a video of the routes the people walked, asking the participants to describe “snapshots” of how they felt. The volunteers were also interviewed before and after.

    The volunteers experienced beneficial effects of green space and preferred it, as it was calming and quieter, the study revealed.

    Dr Chris Neale, Research Fellow, from the University of York’s Stockholm Environment Institute, said: “There are concerns about mental wellbeing as the global population becomes older and more urbanised.

    “Urban green space has a role to play in contributing to a supportive city environment for older people through mediating the stress induced by built up settings.

    “We found that older participants experienced beneficial effects of green space whilst walking between busy built urban environments and urban green space environments. Indeed, this work is the first to be published in a series of papers understanding the impact of green and urban spaces on brain activity in older adults.

    “In a time of austerity, when greens spaces are possibly under threat due to pressure on council funding, we have demonstrated that these areas are important to people’s health.

    “We have an aging population which places challenges on the NHS. As the cost of looking after an aging population continues to rise, maintaining access to green space could be a relatively low cost option for improving mental wellbeing.”

    Dr Sara Tilley, Research Fellow, from the University of Edinburgh, added: “To help ensure that living longer is a positive experience for everyone, we need evidence-based solutions to support lifelong health and wellbeing.

    “These findings – and others from the same project which show how important places are for our personal and cultural memories, and for enabling us to stay connected socially – have implications for the way we design for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities so that going outdoors in younger years becomes a lifelong passion for getting out and about.”

    The study is published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.


  10. Why did we see ‘the dress’ differently? The answer lies in the shadows, new research finds

    April 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the NYU press release:

    When “the dress” went viral in 2015, millions were divided on its true colors: gold and white or black and blue? In a new study, New York University neuroscientist Pascal Wallisch concludes that these differences in perception are due to our assumptions about how the dress was illuminated.

    Those who thought that the dress, worn by the mother of a bride at a wedding in Scotland, was photographed in a shadow likely saw the garment as gold and white; by contrast, those who thought it was illuminated by artificial light were more likely to see it as black and blue.

    “The original image was overexposed, rendering the illumination source uncertain,” explains Wallisch, who serves as a clinical assistant professor in NYU’s Department of Psychology. “As a result, we make assumptions about how the dress was illuminated, which affects the colors we see.”

    “Shadows are blue, so we mentally subtract the blue light in order to view the image, which then appears in bright colors — gold and white,” Wallisch continues. “However, artificial light tends to be yellowish, so if we see it brightened in this fashion, we factor out this color, leaving us with a dress that we see as black and blue.

    “This is a basic cognitive function: to appreciate the color on an object, the illumination source has to be taken into account, which the brain does continuously.”

    The findings, based on an online study with more than 13,000 participants, appear in the Journal of Vision.

    The study’s participants, who had previously seen the dress, were asked whether or not they believed it was in a shadow.

    These beliefs — about whether or not the dress was in a shadow — strongly affected the perceptual experience of the dress. Among those who saw it in a shadow, four out of five participants believed it to be white and gold; by contrast, only about half of participants who did not see it in a shadow saw the garment bearing these colors.

    Wallisch then considered what could explain these findings. He hypothesized that differing perceptions could be linked to one’s exposure to daylight — quite simply, people who rise and go to bed early, and spend many of their waking hours in sunlight (i.e., under a blue sky), are more likely to see the dress as white and gold than are night owls, whose world is illuminated not by the sun, but, rather, by long-wavelength artificial light.

    To test this, he asked participants if they go to bed early and feel best in the morning (i.e., “larks”) or if they like to sleep in and feel best at night (“owls”), then matched this self-identified circadian type with how they saw the dress. Consistent with the hypothesis, larks were significantly more likely to see the dress as white and gold — relative to owls — underscoring the relative effects of exposure to daylight.

    “This suggests that whatever kind of light one is typically exposed to influences how one perceives color,” Wallisch says.

    Conversely, demographic factors such as gender and age had comparatively small effects on the perception of the dress image.

    The findings broaden our understanding of how a bistable stimulus — i.e., one that is fundamentally ambiguous and open to subjective interpretation — works in color perception and, more specifically, offer new insights into a long-standing question about color perception: Is the color you see the same color I see?

    “The answer — based on this research — is ‘not necessarily’,” Wallisch observes. “If illumination conditions are unclear, your assumptions about the illumination source will matter, and those might depend on lifestyle choices, such as when you go to sleep.”