Superhuman 'Rainbow Vision' Common, But Untested

by Alyssa Danigelis

A fairly common genetic mutation in some women allow them to see more colors than the average person. But few who carry the mutation regularly demonstrate this nearly super-human rainbow vision.

Results from new scientific experiments may explain why and the development of a new image-processing filter could help potential tetrachromats develop their unique talent.

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Several years ago, artist Concetta Antico became known as the “woman with rainbow vision” after University of Washington researcher Jay Neitz discovered that she was a tetrachromat. Women like Antico with the genetic mutation have four color receptors in their eyes instead of three, meaning they can perceive more colors.

The mutation isn’t all that rare, but a tetrachromat who reliably demonstrates this enhanced vision is exceptional, BBC Future reported. Antico has described seeing multiple colors where others don’t: in green leaves, in a bunch of tomatoes, in a tiny pebble. She applies this ability to vivid oil paintings that often feature flowers, birds, and landscapes.

“The intense colors are speaking to me all the time,” she told the BBC.

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Recently a team of scientists set up experiments with Antico to evaluate her color perception against others. Kimberly Jameson from the Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Sciences at UC Irvine led the research, which entailed testing participants’ sensitivity to different luminescence levels, the BBC reported.

Test subjects included an artist without tetrachromacy as well as another tetrachromat who is not an artist. Jameson and her team discovered that Antico was indeed more sensitive than the other subjects — even the other person with the mutation. They concluded this likely stemmed from her artistic training.

Jameson and her team used the results to develop an image-processing filter that isolated the parts of an image where Antico saw enhanced colors. While such a filter can’t help folks who only have three color perceptors, the researchers think it could help potential tetrachromats in developing unique artistry.

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They published their findings in a paper (PDF) for the International Symposium on Electronic Imaging that took place recently in San Francisco.

Antico calls her tetrachromacy a gift. Her website noted that she can potentially see 100 million colors compared to the maximum 1 million for regular human eyes.

Currently she says she’s the only authenticated tetrachromat artist on earth. But if others with the mutation train themselves to apply their enhanced vision, she won’t be alone for long. There’s unique treasure on the other side of this particular rainbow.

via BBC Future
Photo Credit: Concetta Antico via Facebook

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  1. I would question how this phenomena relates to how "psychedelic" drugs enhance the brightness and vividness of colors, and how the quest for mind expansion we saw in the 60s refers to the more vivid reception of colors, and how these drugs had some positive expression in songs like "Let the Sun Shine,"," the Age of Aquarius", and other such expressions from this period. This period is often dismissed as if a negative one, but to me the artistic and musical expression was very enhanced.