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As Concetta Antico took her pupils to the park for an art lesson, she would often question them about the many shades she saw flashing before her eyes. “I’d say, ‘Look at the light on the water – can you see the pink shimmering across that rock? Can you see the red on the edge of that leaf there?’” The students would all nod in agreement. It was only years later that she realised they were just too polite to tell the truth: the colours she saw so vividly were invisible to them.
Human beings normally have three types of cone cells and are therefore referred to as trichromats. However, it has been suggested that as women have two different X chromosomes in their cells, some of them could be carrying some variant cone cell pigments, thereby possibly being born as tetrachromats and having four different functioning kinds of cone cells.
One study has suggested that 2–3% of the world’s women might have the kind of fourth cone that lies between the standard red and green cones, giving, theoretically, a significant increase in color differentiation.
Yet another study suggests that as many as 50% of women and 8% of men may have four photopigments. The research continues.
When Concetta Antico looks at a leaf, she sees much more than just green. “Around the edge I’ll see orange or red or purple in the shadow; you might see dark green but I’ll see violet, turquoise, blue,” she said. “It’s like a mosaic of cole
Five years ago, when Antico’s daughter was 7 years old, the family learned that she was colorblind. “I didn’t think it had anything to do with me, but she’s colorblind because of me. I have a mutation,” Antico said.
“I was different than a regular 5-year-old — I was painting at age 7, I was so fascinated with color,” she said. For years, she was exposed to exceptional color, so her brain became wired to take advantage of her tetrachromacy.
This brings us to the first of three major things you need in order to be considered a true, strong tetrachromat.
You need 4 cone classes with substantially different color preferences.
Your brain should be able to distinguish between the activity of all 4 types of cone cells.
This ability to distinguish 4 primary colors should be reflected in your behavior.
Dalton the male squirrel monkey was treated with S-opsin. The picture on the left was altered to simulate what Dalton would probably have seen before the treatment, while the picture on the right is what he would have seen as a newly minted trichromat. Source: Neitz lab.
We were given a print of a hillside of green plants and parts were circled. We were asked to list how many shades of green we could see inside each circle. Maybe ten percent of us could see many shades, while most of the class could only make out a couple. I wonder if this played a part in that? Before that I had no idea everyone did not see the same colors.