Tag Archives: sky

the sky is more than blue

“Why is the sky blue?” The question that children love to ask. Frankly, I want to know the answer too. Before tackling this question, we need to answer the question, “What color is the sky?” To me, the sky’s the limit (pun intended). Today on this beautiful and sunny day, the sky is blue, but when it is cloudy and gloomy, the sky is grey. At night the sky is black with the presence of stars that are spread throughout the galaxy. The sky can present itself as a spectrum of colors. During sunrise it is a refreshing mixture of yellow, orange, and blue. During sunset, the sky is a gorgeous blend of the rainbow from royal purples to warm, sultry reds. The colors of the sky can vary depending on your location on Earth. For example, during the northern lights, it is an array or colors that light up the sky. There are numerous answers to what the color of the sky actually is, but these are just examples of how I see the sky.

However, the perception of color is really at the core of this question. When we think about how we perceive the color of the sky, the answer to this simple question becomes quite complicated. There are many different ways that people see different ranges of color. This is quite special because these experiences and qualities allow for us to experience the world quite differently. People with “normal vision” will perceive the sky differently than others with something such as synesthesia.

Based on my thought process to answer this question, I really dove into different ways people with synesthesia are different in terms of how they perceive the world. Synesthesia is a phenomenon in which people experience unusual percepts elicited by the activation of a sensory modality that is unrelated or a cognitive process (Safran and Sanda, 2014). It is truly fascinating that people experience the world in such a distinct and unique way.

The literature provides great resources to better understand how people with synesthesia process many different stimuli in the world. In a study by Itoh et al. (2019), the experimenters performed a Stroop-like test in individual with synesthesia. The Stroop test is a neuropsychological test to test the ability to inhibit cognitive interference that happens when the processing of a specific feature of a stimulus disrupts the simultaneous processing of a different stimulus (Scarpina and Tagini, 2017).  For example, one must say the color of a word and not the actual word itself. When the color of the word and the word itself differ, this task seems to become increasingly difficult. The authors did this with people with synesthesia, except with an auditory stimulus because some people with synesthesia relate a color and sound together. This was done to test the automaticity of pitch class with relation to color. They did this by presenting pitch class names (e.g., do, re, and mi) in font colors that lined up with their color sensations. These results showed that people with synesthesia had decreased time in identifying font color when the color was incongruent with their associated pitch class names, concluding that pitch-class synesthesia is a genuine type of synesthesia (Itoh et al., 2019).

Stroop Test


Synesthetes have been implicated to have a cross activation of visual areas that processes shape and color, supporting how visual stimuli lead to their unique perceptions of the world (Amsel et al., 2017). A review by Safran and Sanda (2014) took a look into how people with color synesthesia have varying associations in regards to perceptions, emotions, and consciousness. For example, synesthetes showed improved digit identification because each number is represented by a color, making a specific digit stand out. Some synesthetes experience their emotions and understanding through color, as shown in the review. An example that was shown was how a painting called “Vision” showed how the synesthetic painter drew out the visual experience of a needle puncture during an acupuncture session (Safran and Sanda, 2014).

“Vision” (Safran and Sanda, 2014)


To me, I would interpret it as a red splotch that could be blood. Clearly, my interpretation is far less poetic and meaningful when compared to the synesthete’s perception. Even within this review, the authors explored and reviewed many different ways that people with synesthesia navigate the world around them.

It is genuinely mind-blowing how the person on my right can interpret the world completely differently than the person on my left. I never would have imagined how a simple question like, “What color is the sky,” could be such an intriguing conversation starter.



Amsel, B. D., Kutas, M., & Coulson, S. (2017). Projectors, associators, visual imagery, and the time course of visual processing in grapheme-color synesthesia. Cognitive Neuroscience, 8(4), 206–223. https://doi.org/10.1080/17588928.2017.1353492

Itoh, K., Sakata, H., Igarashi, H., & Nakada, T. (2019). Automaticity of pitch class-color synesthesia as revealed by a Stroop-like effect. Consciousness and Cognition, 71, 86–91. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2019.04.001

Safran, A. B., & Sanda, N. (2015). Color synesthesia. Insight into perception, emotion, and consciousness: Current Opinion in Neurology, 28(1), 36–44. https://doi.org/10.1097/WCO.0000000000000169

Scarpina, F., & Tagini, S. (2017). The Stroop Color and Word Test. Frontiers in Psychology, 8.   https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00557


Media Library



Do we see as well as we think we see?

Picture of the sky over Pont du Gard

On the first day of Arts on the Brain, we were told to write freely about the prompt “What color is the sky?” I immediately remembered a podcast about a man, Guy Deutscher, who asked his daughter every day what color the sky is, and she didn’t answer blue. The podcast by Jad Abumrad and Jim Gleick starts off by talking about Homer and his lack of the word blue in his texts. It then goes onto talking about other old texts that don’t mention blue. It then goes into talking about the order that colors enter languages and says that blue is always the last one and that the theory was that it had to do with having the ability to make the color. They then talked about another person who brought a test to a group of people without the word for blue and that they had trouble identifying the blue box from green boxes. This seemed like proof that language impacts perception. They then got to Deutscher’s experiment with his daughter. They made sure that no one told her the sky was blue but made sure she did know the color blue. At first, she refused to answer the question about what color it was until one day she answered white and eventually she said blue. This seemed to answer why languages wouldn’t find it incredibly important to add a word for the color blue.

This made me wonder, how much does language impact perception? Do French people experience the world differently than I do? So many people speak more than one language here, unlike in America, and would that impact your perception as well?

Photo from https://theophthalmologist.com/fileadmin/_processed_/0/a/csm_0614-201-brain_b506a2a191.png

Broca’s and Wernike’s areas, outlined above, are two of the major regions associated with speech. The visual cortex at the back of the brain is where the majority of visual processing happens. At first, it appears that the visual cortex is so far away from the rest of the sensory processing and anything involving language. However, everything in the brain travels through multiple areas in the brain. Here is the path that light takes after entering the eye:

Photo from http://brainmind.com/images/VisualCortexOptic.jpg

Once the sight has been processed by the visual cortex, it then projects out to other regions of the brain.

Photo from https://nba.uth.tmc.edu/neuroscience/m/s2/images/html5/s2_15_10.jpg

Language and speech also move around to different regions like in the picture below.

Photo from https://michellepetersen76.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/redrawing-language-map-of-brain-neuroinnovations.png

With all of this and other information moving through the brain, it doesn’t seem super farfetched to me that language could impact our perception. Bhatara et al. (2015) showed that learning a second language would impact rhythm perception in native French speakers. Work by Ardila et al. (2015) shows that one region of the brain has to do with both recognition and adding a word to what you see. They also showed that this region connects with regions that play roles in thinking, categorization, and memory.

More recent research by He et al. (2019) compared color perception between Mongolian and Mandarin speakers. According to the study, both languages only have one word for light versus dark green. However, Mongolian divides light and dark blue into two different words while Mandarin only has one word for light and dark blue. They showed the subjects greens and blues and asked them to divide them into one of the 2 or 3 categories. They were then asked to sort the colors so that similar ones were together. The Mongolian speakers grouped the colors more closely together than the Mandarin speakers did. They also did an experiment where they timed how long it took the participants to find which color was different than the rest and found differences between the two groups. These experiments further show that language does have an impact on how we perceive color.

It would be interesting to find out if language or culture plays more of an impact on color perception. However, because the two heavily influence each other and are nearly impossible to completely separate, it would be impossible to know which plays a larger role. I would also be interested to know if language’s impact on color perception means that I would see artwork differently than a native speaker of a different language. Did all of the artists that we’re learning about in Arts on the Brain see their paintings differently than I do?  Would a bilingual person categorize colors according to their first language or the language they speak with the most color terms? Would common terms like light blue vs dark blue play a role or would they both be considered blue? I think the impact that language can have on perception is fascinating and will definitely keep it in mind the next time I’m looking at paintings in a museum.

Works Cited

Ardila, A., Bernal, B., & Rosselli, M. (2015). Language and visual perception associations: meta-analytic connectivity modeling of Brodmann area 37. Behavioural neurology, 2015, 565871. doi:10.1155/2015/565871

Bhatara, A., Yeung, H. H., & Nazzi, T. (2015). Foreign language learning in French speakers is associated with rhythm perception, but not with melody perception. [Abstract]. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 41(2), 277-282. doi:10.1037/a0038736

He, H., Li, J., Xiao, Q., Jiang, S., Yang, Y., & Zhi, S. (2019). Language and Color Perception: Evidence From Mongolian and Chinese Speakers. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 551. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00551

Radiolab – Why Isn’t the Sky Blue? [Jules Davidoff and Guy Deutscher] [Audio blog review]. (2018, January 2). Retrieved June 9, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=um6j_WRDggs