What part of the brain controls color perception?

Although it may seem objective, color is about a private perceptual experience and therefore subjective (just like the perception of pain). But … what does the perception of color imply? What does it depend on that we perceive some colors and others? What makes us perceive a red, a blue or a yellow?

In this article we are going to answer the question ‘’What part of the brain controls color perception?’’ we will talk about how colors are perceived, different colors and the pathologies associated with the perception of color, among other topics.

What part of the brain controls color perception?

The occipital lobe controls color perception. The brain (specifically the visual cortex, which is found in the occipital lobe) is responsible for making color perception conscious.

There are different definitions of color. Color can be understood as a perceptual response to objects and lights that gives them certain qualities (such as green). It can also be considered a characteristic of the perceptual response.

To define colors, in our day to day we usually use examples (such as “blue is like the sea”, “green is like trees” or “black is like darkness”.

Factors that determine color perception

There are four important factors when it comes to perceiving colors. These are: 

  • Wavelength and lighting: that is, how objects reflect light.
  • The effect of the surrounding area: also called simultaneous contrast.
  • The level of adaptation of the observer: the presence of light or darkness (the darker, the more we perceive blue [short wavelength]).
  • Color memory: knowledge of the characteristic color of certain objects influences our perception.
  • Color consistency

On the other hand, the constancy of color also plays a key role in the perception of color; This implies that we perceive colors “always” the same (in natural conditions), that is, red for us will always be red, for example.

In any case, this constancy is partial, since the perception of color changes a little when the lighting changes.

How do we perceive colors?

The colors that we perceive are the result of the mixture of the wavelengths reflected by the objects; it can be said that the light is filtered by the surface on which it falls. There are three types of wavelengths:

  • Short wave: blue color.
  • Medium wave: green color.
  • Long wave: red color.
  • The remaining colors (other than these three) result from the mixing of these three wavelengths.

The perceptual process

Visual perception is determined by neural processing at all stages of the visual system. This depends on the cones, among other variables.

At a physiological level, a selective discoloration of visual pigments occurs in color adaptation. This involves specific neurons in a specific area of ​​the brain, area V4, located in the extrastriate cortex (secondary visual cortex).

Striated neurons respond to visual stimulus; this response is related to wavelength (which determines the type of color we see), and the response of V4 neurons is related to perception.

Types of colors

There are two types of colors:

1. Achromatic

These colors have no hue; it’s about black, white, and grays. At the brain level and from sight, we perceive achromatic colors with the rods (receptors), which are photoreceptor cells of the retina responsible for vision in a low light condition.

2. Chromatic

Chromatic colors have a hue: they are all “other colors”, such as blue, red, green … Unlike the previous ones, the receptors for these colors are the cones (photosensitive cells that are located in the retina, responsible that we perceive colors in one way or another).

Functions of color perception

The perception of color has a number of functions for humans, but also for some animals (since not all see in color). Let’s get to know them:

1. Adaptive

Perceiving colors implies a survival value, and therefore an adaptive value, since it allows: searching for food, detecting dangers and interpreting emotions.

The perception of color results from an evolutionary development (for example, the fact of detecting fruit among the foliage increases the probability that this animal has food, eats, and therefore survives).

2. Aesthetics

The fact of perceiving colors implies being able to appreciate beauty and aesthetics, as well as appreciating the nuances of objects, landscapes, art (for example in paintings), people, etc.

3. Perceptual organization

Perceiving the different colors allows you to organize the world by separate areas or segments.

Associated vision pathologies

The basic alteration of color perception is color blindness. This alteration implies that the person sees some different colors from the rest of the people, and “confuses” or interchanges some of them, or that he sees directly in black and white.

It is an alteration of genetic origin in the ability to distinguish colors, which affects 8% of men and 1% of women (because it is recessive linked to sex). Two types are known:

1. Monochromatism

The first type of color blindness is a rare form of color blindness (total color blindness), which occurs in 10 people out of a million. Affected people do not have functional cones, that is, they show vision only with rods; come in white, black and gray. On the other hand, they need protection from sunlight.

2. Dichromatism

The other type of color blindness involves blindness to some colors. It is sex-linked, and three subtypes are known: protanopia, deuteranopia, and tritanopia.


It is the absence of the retinal photoreceptors of the green color (medium waves). They see the same colors but with a different neutral point.


It is the total absence of retinal photoreceptors of the red color (long waves).


It is a very rare condition in which the retinal photoreceptors of the blue color (short waves) are absent. This is very rare.

Color is built by the brain in the same way as words

Color is usually thought to be a fundamental characteristic of objects: a blue lake, a pink flamingo, white clouds …

However, this popular notion of colors is not real. According to recent research by scientists at the University of Chicago, in the United States, the color with which we see things actually depends on biological processes that occur in the eyes and in the brain.

In a statement issued by said university, it is explained that there are certain neural mechanisms in the brain that establish which color belongs to which object. Thanks to them, for example, no one will ever see a blue flamingo in a pink lake.

But what happens when a color loses the object it is related to? The present research has shown, for the first time, that instead of disappearing with its object, the brain would apply the color “without form” to another object in view. This finding has revealed a new basic property of vision.

Establish new relationships

In other words, what the study has shown is that the brain processes an object’s shape and its color in two separate ways and that, although the shape and color of objects are normally related, the neural representation of color can “ survive ”alone, with no form to accompany her.

When this happens, the brain establishes a new relationship between that color and an alternate visible shape.

Steven Shevell, a psychologist at the University of Chicago specializing in color and vision, and author of the research, states that: “color is in the brain.

It is constructed in the same way that the meanings of words are constructed. Without neural processes we would not be able to understand the colors of things, just as we are unable to understand a language that we do not know ”.

Shevell and his collaborators have published an article in the specialized journal Psychological Science in which his work is explained in detail.

The results obtained have increased the understanding of how the brain is capable of integrating the multiple characteristics of an object (shape, color, location and speed), into a unified whole.

How we see

As Shevell explains, “One aspect of human vision that we normally don’t appreciate is that different characteristics of an object, including color and shape, can be represented in different parts of the brain.”

Thus, for example, if a person sees a basketball in motion, he perceives it with a particular color, shape, and speed. The meeting of these characteristics, which makes it possible for us to perceive the ball as a whole, is the result of a complex brain function.

When it comes to color perception, the researchers used a technique called “binocular rivalry” to analyze how the brain processes color information, and how the brain unifies this perception with that of the shape of objects.

Binocular rivalry is about presenting a different image to each eye at the same time. The scientist claims that when “binocular rivalry” is applied, the brain has difficulty integrating the signals received by both eyes. If both signals are sufficiently different, what happens is that the brain resolves the conflict by suppressing the information received by one of the eyes.

Taking advantage of this feature of the brain’s disparate visual signal processing, the researchers applied “binocular rivalry” to make one of the eyes suppress the shape of a presented object, but not its color.

Active neural process

Thus, in the first place, a set of vertically oriented green stripes was presented to the left eye of the research participants, while a set of horizontal red stripes was displayed in front of their right eye.

According to Shevell, in this case, the brain is unable to merge both images into a single one that makes sense, so it only perceives the horizontal or vertical lines and discards the other lines.

The scientists created a version of the eye rivalry technique for this study, with which the horizontal pattern was suppressed without eliminating the color red, the perception of which continued to reach the brain.

When both patterns were presented to the eyes of the participants (the vertical with lines and green color, and the horizontal only in red color), their brains were faced with a problem of “location”.

Both red and green reached the participants’ consciousness, but there was only one vertical pattern (one object, but two colors). The result was surprising: the “disembodied” red color, from the horizontal pattern not visible, was attached to parts of the vertical pattern visible to the other eye. That is, the participants saw vertical red and green stripes.

According to the scientists, this fact proves the idea of ​​a neural coupling, which would allow color to always be related to an object through an active neural process. This process is automatic and immediate to us.

FAQS: What part of the brain controls color perception?

What is responsible for color perception?

The brain (specifically the visual cortex, which is found in the occipital lobe) is responsible for making color perception conscious. The cones are concentrated in a region near the center of the retina called the fovea. … Cones are responsible for color vision.

How does brain dominance affect color perception?

At the visual level, each cerebral hemisphere processes the right or left half of the visual field in an identical way, and does not affect the color or shape of what is observed. “… When we observe an image, the brain adjusts its perception of colors depending on the lighting.

Is color real or perception?

Color is a perception generated in the brain of an observer who interprets the nervous messages sent by the eye after breaking down the different wavelengths of the light received.

What color catches the human eye the most?

Psychologically, red is the most outstanding color. The one that attracts the most attention.

What color is lowest in energy?

The radiation frequency is equal to its energy and the radiation wavelength is inversely proportional to that of the energy. Red is the visible light with the lowest energy and violet is the highest.

In this article we answered the question ‘’What part of the brain controls color perception?’’ talked about how colors are perceived, different colors and the pathologies associated with the perception of color, among other topics.

If you have any questions or comments please let us know!


Gregory, R. L. (1973). Eye and brain: The psychology of seeing. McGraw-Hill.

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