Regaining the Rainbow

There is ample evidence that men and women think, express themselves and even experience emotions differently (for more details, read on through this issue). But in the area of sensory perception, psychologists are hard-pressed to identify major discrepancies. By and large, the way the two genders experience the sounds, sights and smells of life is quite similar. The most striking exception may be found, at least for some, in the perception of colors.

Seeing in color is a complex process, as you may remember from your school days. It starts with the delicate lining of the eyes, a structure called the retina. Retinal tissue contains light-sensitive cells that absorb wavelengths in the visible spectrum and convert them into electrical signals. The brain interprets this information as the riot of colors we consciously experience. The retinal cells called cones come in three varieties. The S-type cone is maximally sensitive to light in the short-wavelength (blue) part of the visible spectrum, the M-type cone responds best to medium wavelengths, and the L-type to long, reddish wavelengths. People with normal color vision are known as trichromats because they possess these three kinds of photosensitive cone cells.

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