How Do We See Color? Facts About Our Vision Simplified For Kids!

Adekunle Olanrewaju Jason
Jan 24, 2024 By Adekunle Olanrewaju Jason
Originally Published on Oct 29, 2021
Close Up Macro Shot of an Eye.
Age: 3-18
Read time: 6.3 Min

When light hits an object the object absorbs some of the light and reflects the rest of it.

Light receptors that are present within the eye are known to translate messages to the brain. This, in turn, produces familiar sensations of color after light hits an object.

It was observed by Isaac Newton that colors aren’t necessarily inherent in an object, but rather the surface of the object is seen to reflect some colors and absorb others. What we perceive are only the colors that are reflected. So for example, the color red that we see in an apple is not in an apple, but the surface of it is reflecting wavelengths that we see as a red color. The object absorbs the rest.

In a white object, we see the color white as all the light is reflected, whereas in black, it absorbs all the wavelengths. This light that reflects and absorbs is how both of these colors get their respective shades. In the color spectrum, the primary colors are red, green, and blue. When we combine these in balanced amounts, it also produces a pure white light or color.

Color blindness is a condition wherein the part of the brain that interprets colors is damaged by ailments like glaucoma or macular degeneration.

Keep reading to learn how we see color and the problem of color blindness. After reading about vision in humans, do check how do we see and how do telescopes work?

How does the human eye see color?

We categorize different types of light depending on their different wavelengths, which can range from many meters between every wave peak to as little as an atom's diameter. These different wavelengths have an entire electromagnetic spectrum including high energy light waves with short wavelengths, such as cosmic and gamma rays, as well as low energy light waves with long wavelengths, such as radio waves. Color vision is enabled by different types of cones found at the center of the retina. This color vision is classified into three types.

When light is reflected off an object and enters our eyes, light hits the cornea first, the clear outer layer. The cornea then bends light towards the pupil, which broadens or restricts to allow more or less light into the eye. The reflected light travels to the lens, which curves and concentrates it to a spot on the retina's outer layer. When reflected light is detected by the cells at the rear end of the retina, the information is transmitted to the brain via the optic nerve, where it is processed and analyzed. After the reflected light is transferred through the optic nerve, the retina is composed of light-sensitive cells known as rods and cones, which transmit data to nerve fibers in the inner retina. In the rods and cones, rods are in charge of what we perceive of light and dark. Rods are also in charge of our field of vision.

What colors do humans actually see?

The visible light spectrum extends from violet light (which has a frequency of about 400 nanometres) to red light (which has a frequency of about 650-700 nanometres). Because a functional human eye has three kinds of photoreceptor cells, many of which can record approximately 100 different shades, most scientists in the world estimate that the number of colors we can distinguish between is around one million.

However, there are some colors that fall outside of our spectrum of visible light that we cannot see. There are some people who suffer from color blindness who can’t differentiate between colors. Such color blindness in people makes them think that two similar shades are the same color.

Colors like red, green, and yellowish-blue (not green, but a hue similar to both yellow and blue), are impossible for the human eye to see. When hit by inbound red light, cells in the retina, known as 'opponent neurons', are ignited, signaling to the brain that we're looking at something red. Green light inhibits those very same opponent neurons, and the lack of any activity informs the brain that we are seeing green. So, seeing red and green together is impossible. Likewise, yellow light stimulates another set of opponent neurons while blue light suppresses them.

Close up shot of a woman's eye.

What color catches the eye first?

The findings of several researchers and scientists have produced one answer; nothing catches the eye like bright, warm tones. This includes the colors red, yellow, and orange above all else. That's the reason all stop signs, stoplights, and fire apparatus are red. Things that are critical for humans to notice are frequently colored red. Many ripe fruits are red in color. As a result, it is a color that we have been taught to recognize.

Yellow is a cheery color that attracts attention and ranks alongside red as among the most eye-catching colors available. Colors also depend on the time of the day. Green light is the easiest for our eyes to detect in the day, accompanied by yellow and blue. This is one of the reasons why traffic lights are green. Red is also used in traffic signals since it stands out against all of the green in the environment, despite the fact that it has the least visibility from a distance. Our eyes have three types of photoreceptor cells that are known as cones.

They contain photopigments that are sensitive to different wavelengths. These are designed to perceive wavelengths. During the day, light hits, and our eyes are most easily able to pick up green light, followed by yellow and blue. This is one of the reasons why traffic lights are green. Red is also known to be used in traffic lights as it stands out against all the green colors in nature. This occurs even though red is actually the least visible color at a distance. Along with different types of cones, photoreceptor cells, known as rods, assist the eye in seeing in low-light conditions. When the light starts to fade, yellow takes over as the most visible color from a distance for a human eye. That's why many fire engines have become yellow rather than the usual red, as well as many taxis.

What color is hardest to see?

Blue is the most difficult color to see in the visual spectrum, because it requires more light energy to create a complete response from blue-violet cones than green or red. According to the UCLA Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, a blue-violet color may seem darker than green or red at a certain brightness.

The darkness seen in blue-violet is comparative and relates to different color combinations, whereas the brightness of yellow triggers two of the most responsive cone cells in the eye. It is challenging for the eye to concentrate on blue, green, and red at the very same time, and concentrating on blue-violet is especially difficult. This causes a haze prompted by the blue-violet spectrum, which frequently causes headaches. This blue-violet light can be fixed to an extent by wearing sunglasses with yellow tints. Along with these, red-green and yellow-blue are also quite difficult to see and are often referred to as the forbidden colors of the visual spectrum.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for how do we see color? case of visible light facts simplified for kids! Then why not take a look at boxer tail: what's all about dog's tail docking? Here's all the facts!, or budgie lifespan: amaze-wing facts for your pet bird revealed!

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Written by Adekunle Olanrewaju Jason

Bachelor of Science specializing in Mass Communication.

Adekunle Olanrewaju Jason picture

Adekunle Olanrewaju JasonBachelor of Science specializing in Mass Communication.

With over 3+ years of professional experience, Olanrewaju is a certified SEO Specialist and Content Writer. He holds a BSc in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos. Throughout his dynamic career, Olanrewaju has successfully taken on various roles with startups and established organizations. He has served as a Technical Writer, Blogger, SEO Specialist, Social Media Manager, and Digital Marketing Manager. Known for his hardworking nature and insightful approach, Olanrewaju is dedicated to continuous learning and improvement.
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