Woman with Super Vision

The article that I found falls into the category of cognition because of how it relates to the mental process of receiving knowledge through one of the five senses; our sight. The retina is the beginning of visual information processing, and it is here that light hits light sensitive cells known as receptors. These receptors are shaped like rods and cones (the rods being much bigger), and they are what turn the light into nerve impulses that are then transported to the cortex of the brain by the optic nerve.

Nearly everyone has three types of cone cells that distinguish different bandwidths of light. The combination of these signals determine the color we see reflecting off of an object. Despite the fact that our sensitivity to these cells differ from one another, one person’s perception of color tends to match the perception of others. It was thought that being color blind was the only anomaly to this process of color (people who have a hard time differentiating certain colors because of a faulty cone in the retina), but a theory has suggested that an extra cone could produce the opposite effect and allow a person to see multiple variations of the colors we already see. This fourth cone is seen in different animals, such as zebra-finches and goldfish.

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The article is about a woman named Concetta Antico who has tetrachromacy; a genetic condition in which the development of the retinas is affected by a specific gene variation, and results in her having four cones. What may seem like a solid color to the rest of us, can appear to be a multitude of colors to Antico. For example, instead of a green leaf, she sees a green leaf with red hues tracing its edges. Instead of a dark gray shadow, she sees a shadow filled with “lilac and turquoise and blue”. Apparently, Antico can see 99 MILLION more hues than the rest of us who are stuck with trichromatic vision (three cones). Luckily, Antico is an artist. Through her paintings she hopes to give people a glimpse into her world of colors, allowing them to experience the beauty that they’re missing out on.

On the left is Antico's painting of what she sees. On the right is the same image, but to the normal eye.

Tetrochromatic Vision vs. Trichromatic Vision

The original article I found seemed very interesting and eye catching, but the actual information it gives about how our vision works didn’t seem to be strong enough evidence due to the little information it gave. However, I found a second article, that mentions the same woman, on BBC.com that goes into great detail about tetrachromacy in humans, and the research behind it. This second article also gives more information about Antico; how grocery shopping is a nightmare because of all the loud colors, and how her favorite color is white because it’s the most calm, yet still beautiful.

I thought it was interesting that tetrachromacy is thought to be a condition only found in women. The thought process behind this is that our red and green cones are found in a gene that only lies on the X chromosome. Since women have two X chromosomes, they are able to hold two separate versions of this same gene. It’s estimated that 12% of the female population are tetrochromats.

3 thoughts on “Woman with Super Vision

  1. avogt

    I think you did an awesome job with your blog post. You picked a very interesting article about something I had never heard before. I think the pictures you incorporated really helped in understanding how she sees the world versus what we see everyday.

  2. fremont

    Those were such fascinating articles!! I had read about this woman in a Buzzfeed article a couple years back, and what struck me was that they seemed to be glorifying her condition. I couldn’t help but wonder how wonderful this condition really was. I am glad you were able to find the other article talking about the condition itself, and I was additionally relieved to see the writers treating it as a multi-faceted story rather than a narrow interpretation. I wonder if our lives would be better if we had this vision, though the article clearly says that it’s not as great as it’s made out to be. I am quite content to see the colors that I can! I also like that you addressed the point that seemingly only women have this unique condition – it makes me wonder why something like our red and green cones are only found in X chromosomes. Why is that? Why does evolution deem those cones to be linked to the X chromosomes? What is the evolutionary benefit? I can;t help but wonder…

    Thank you so much for posting this! I had known about this woman but not about the condition itself – this was very educational and interesting. I hope more can be revealed about this condition, and I hope to see more of this woman’s art! I feel that when people spread awareness about one cognitive/visual condition, more interest is founded for other conditions that might need their own research! I look forward to your other blog posts!

  3. cheyc

    This was a very interesting post as I love finding out about strange evolutions in animals. The article makes me wonder if this is an evolutional adaptation to help perceive the world, or simply an anomaly. I would’ve loved to have seen some other articles speaking about the condition itself and not just from her point of view, but seeing as this is a pretty rare condition I’d say it’s safe to assume there weren’t scientific articles going into very much detail.

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