Dr Mark Changizi is a theoretical cognitive scientist with a PhD in Maths, who became a CognoScience Professor at RPI in New York. He then created his own lab, starting up a research industry to fund his work.
Mark focuses on the evolutionary principles underlining why we are the way we are. Why we have evolved to do the kinds of things we do or have the body structures that we have.
He has worked on many projects in the area of perception. In one of his projects he asked himself… Why do we have colour vision?
QED is very interested in this because Mark links why we see colour vision to a physical state of our emotions. Emotional awareness is an important part of being able to build our resilience.
Most mammals have two dimensions in their vision, which are black/white and blue/yellow. It is only some primates that have a red/green third dimension. It was thought that this was ‘eating related’ and used to find fruit in the forest or young leaves, Mark felt this was a week argument as primate diets are so diverse. Mark thought that colour vision was actually for seeing health and emotions on bare skin.
We see blushing, blanching, veins, the glow of youth and all of the colour states that are on the bare skin, because we are seeing through the skin to the blood below. The body signal of how oxygenated the blood is, is visible to us because we have eyes that are peculiarly optimized.
Our eyes are designed to see the oxygenation variations and hemoglobin under the skin.
Birds have four dimensions of colour vision – the cones in their eyes are uniformly distributed across the spectrum. We as primates, in order to see this protein structure under the skin, have to have a peculiar spread of cones to see it. The primates who have this vision are also the naked ones. So nakedness and this red/green colour vision go together. It’s all about seeing skin, and the states that you can see through the skin.
This is how we pick up on peoples’ emotions. We ‘see’ emotions as we look at the oxygenated blood moving around the body. It is the changes in the distributions of blood, on the face and body, that show our changes, different states and emotions.
We can pick up cues to emotions in other ways besides colour, such as facial or bodily expressions – but colour is one of the key ways. We are not normally consciously aware that we are reading these signals but we have been designed to see them, understand and react to them appropriately.
This design seems quite open to individual interpretation, also some people are much more prone to blushing than others or their capillaries may just be able to be seen more easily. This all affects the way we see the emotions of somebody else.
We can to some degree, physically control muscular emotions on the face but we can’t control cardiovascular system or the degree to which capillaries show themselves near the surface. These things are out of our control. This is why colour alterations on the skin are more honest as we can’t fake them. It proves that we really feel something.
Once Mark figured out the connection with the colour vision from the cones in the eye and the perceiving of the blood oxygenation level, he wondered if it could be enhanced?
When our skin gets more oxygenated it looks redder, when it is less oxygenated it looks greener. There are some very narrow parts of the spectrum in which something funny happens and some of these narrow bands contribute to the opposite – perhaps being greener rather than redder. Mark has built filters that block out these narrow parts of the spectrum, so that when somebody was more of less oxygenated, then the visual red/green difference was even stronger.
Medical people now wear this equipment so that they can see things more exaggerated. Emotions are enhanced. Mark has even sold this equipment to poker players to enable them to read the details of their opponents more easily.
Thanks Mark for sharing this amazing link between how and what we see and our emotions.
His book can be found on Amazon where he focuses on four questions:
1. Why do we see in color? 2. Why do our eyes face forward? 3. Why do we see illusions? 4. Why does reading come so naturally to us?