Is This Shoe Pink or Gray—and Can Your Answer Really Tell You Anything About Your Brain?

Here's what experts have to say.

Photo: Alex Sandoval

The viral shoe from 2017 is back, and it's breaking the internet once again.

The sneaker in the photo is obviously gray and teal...or most definitely pink and white, depending on who you ask. Lizzo, for one, says she sees gray and teal.

“I SEE GREY & TEAL BUT MY WHOLE TEAM SEES PINK & WHITE HELP,” the pop star captioned an Instagram post of the shoe.

Will Smith is also on team gray-teal. "There's no right answer, but it's definitely not pink," Smith said in a video he posted to Instagram.

The internet is divided, just as it was back in 2015 when the white and gold (or blue and black?) dress went viral. This time, though, the image comes with something of an explanation for why people see the shoe differently. The theory is that "left-brained people" (those who are more logical and analytical) see gray and teal, and "right-brained people" (the more creative and emotionally in tune kind) see the sneaker as pink and white.

It's not clear where that theory originated, but it's probably not true. Ivan Schwab, MD, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, tells Health, "I don't think I could point to any evidence, any study, that would back that up."

As for the real reason why people see the shoe differently, Dr. Schwab says, "It's not completely understood, but the best consideration is contextual, meaning the context in which you see it—lighting, background, what's associated with it."

I know what you're thinking, But all of my coworkers saw the photo in the same context and still saw the colors differently! That was my response, too. Dr. Schwab says that could be because we all have slightly different visual pigments in our eyes.

"Everybody doesn't see exactly the same color," he explains. "When you call something red, your friend might see it as red, but they're not seeing exactly the same wavelength as you."

Still, he thinks the more likely explanation is that it's contextual, and that much of it has to do with what the person is expecting when they look at the photo.

Don Vaughn, PhD, a neuroscientist at UCLA, tells Health: "I think what people don't realize is vision is something you learn, it's not something you're given. Plenty of studies have shown that depending on what your exposure is to the world, you can actually see things differently than somebody else."

Okay, so the science isn't totally clear on why people can see the same image differently. But as Vaughn points out, "What these illusions make us realize is that we're as unique on the inside as we are on the outside."

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