Do the Colors You See in a Photograph Reveal Left or Right Brain Dominance?

On May 3 2019, @CNYcentral shared the following tweet featuring a photograph of a shoe with a claim that the colors in which it appeared to render revealed whether a reader is either “left-brained” or “right-brained”:

In the tweet @CNYcentral claimed  that if “the right-half of your brain is dominant, you will see a combination of pink and white, and if your left half is dominant, you will see it in grey and green color,” a form of content-sharing that appears to be “engagement bait.” That information was presented not with corroborating information about its claims, but instead asking readers to interact with the post.

It is worth pointing out that when the image of the shoe first became a viral sensation in October 2017, there was no “left-brain/right-brain” quiz aspect attached to it. Users simply debated whether the image was gray and green or pink and white.

In comments under the original tweet, science journalist Erin Biba pointed out that the entire premise of the left/right brain claim was faulty, adding that spreading scientifically inaccurate statements in exchange for likes and retweets was unbecoming for a news organization:

There’s no such thing as dominant brain sides, that’s a pseudoscience myth and research has proven it to be false – we use all sides of our brain.

— Erin Biba (@erinbiba) May 5, 2019

You are a news organization it is *highly irresponsible* to be spreading this myth that has absolutely no scientific basis whatsoever.

— Erin Biba (@erinbiba) May 5, 2019

If you were responsible and ethical in any way you’d delete this and fact check it but RTs amiright?!?! Who cares about blatant lies when you can go viral!!!!

— Erin Biba (@erinbiba) May 5, 2019

Biba linked to an article explaining that the notion of “left brain” or “right brain” dominance was itself a myth:

Recent research using brain imaging technology hasn’t found any evidence of right or left dominance. One of the myth’s fatal flaws is that it relies on vague conceptions of the abilities it purports to explain. Math, for example, requires logical thought and, thus, is generally said to reside in the left brain, far away from all those artsy right-brain abilities. But mathematics is a profoundly creative endeavor in addition to being a logical one. So would a gifted mathematician be a right-brained person or a left-brained person? Likewise, artistic creativity isn’t just unbridled emotion. Many of the greatest works of art are products of rigorous, precise thought.

As a June 2012 piece about the left-and-right-brained myth points out, the origin of the belief has its foundation in neuroscience, but the manner in which it is applied in pop science is flawed:

There is more than a grain of truth to the left-brain right-brain myth. While they look alike, the two hemispheres of the brain do function differently. For example, it’s become almost common knowledge that in most people the left brain is dominant for language. The right hemisphere, on the other hand, is implicated more strongly in emotional processing and representing the mental states of others. However, the distinctions aren’t as clear cut as the myth makes out — for instance, the right hemisphere is involved in processing some aspects of language, such as intonation and emphasis.

Much of what we know about the functional differences between the hemispheres comes from the remarkable split-brain studies that began in the sixties. These investigations were conducted on patients who’d had the thick bundle of fibres connecting their hemispheres cut as a last-resort treatment for epilepsy. Researchers, including the psychologists Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga, could present stimuli to just one hemisphere or the other at a time, and they discovered that the two halves of the brain acted like independent entities with contrasting processing styles.

But it’s important to remember that in healthy people the two brain hemispheres are well-connected. The fictional doctor Gregory House called the corpus callosum that joins the hemispheres the “George Washington Bridge” of the brain, and in most of what we do, the hemispheres have evolved to operate together, sharing information across this bridge. Neuroscientists working in this field today are interested in how this coordination occurs.

Northrup-Grumman’s Now notes that despite its prevalence, the underlying notion is simply unfounded, stemming from misinterpreted and centuries-old research:

The left-brain right-brain myth stems from the common idea that your dominant personality traits are related to which side of your brain has more control. Supposedly, left-brained people are more logical, while right-brained people are more creative. This popular idea has been around for more than 200 years and has proliferated in the age of BuzzFeed personality quizzes, but it simply isn’t true. In reality, people use both sides of the brain equally, and logic and creativity are not mutually exclusive.

A 2017 Harvard Health Publishing blog post explained modern research revealed “no evidence of ‘sidedness'” using modern equipment such as CT scans or MRIs:

According to a 2013 study from the University of Utah, brain scans demonstrate that activity is similar on both sides of the brain regardless of one’s personality.

They looked at the brain scans of more than 1,000 young people between the ages of 7 and 29 and divided different areas of the brain into 7,000 regions to determine whether one side of the brain was more active or connected than the other side. No evidence of “sidedness” was found. The authors concluded that the notion of some people being more left-brained or right-brained is more a figure of speech than an anatomically accurate description.

So why do some people see the shoe as pink and white, while others see it as gray and green? Another commenter had insight into the mystery:

It’s called white balance. You’re welcome.

— Pepillogrito ???????? (@PepilloGrito) May 4, 2019

No, this is an edited version (i edited myself in my mobile). What happens is that the OP whas shooted with a wrong color temperature setting (maybe daylight set and shooted with 3200°K light bulb illumination), and the camera does the light temperature (white balance) wrong

— Pepillogrito ???????? (@PepilloGrito) May 5, 2019

That explanation was in line with a similar color debate involving a dress in February 2015. Not long after “the dress” spread virally across many social media, explanations involving its white balance and overexposure appeared:

Sure, we’ve all seen overexposed photos — they look washed out and too bright. But maybe we’ve never seen one this bad. The original colors of the dress are now known to be dark black and a deep royal blue, but you wouldn’t know it from this photo.

And yet, if you’re seeing the dress as white and gold, simple Photoshop techniques to correct overexposure will show you what the dress looked like in the first place. These techniques don’t intentionally add blue or black to the image — they’re just designed to correct overexposure.

It is true that some people see the shoes in the above tweet as gray and green, while others see it as pink and white. But originally, no one suggested that perceived colors of the image revealed whether a person was “left-brained” or “right-brained.” Those particular classifications are scientifically unsound, and the disparity came largely from device settings and warped color balance.