February 6, 2011

GRAY MATTERS: Seeing the World in Gray

In times of depression or extreme sadness, one of the remedies that seem to work for me is writing. I’m quite fond of writing poems just to let out some bottled up emotions I have inside. I’ve recently gone through some of the works I have done over the past couple of years and I’ve observed some recurring themes or lines. Here are a few lines that have been noticeably similar in content. 

The clouds turn gray,
Limp fields of roses sway feebly
Time rolls by languidly (2006)

My eyes awake to a fast-paced daze
Of bright shooting rays in sparkling days
I paint my own image with
A colorful hue, swirling in spirals, bathed in gray (2007)

The skies remain blank and gray
no matter how bright the rainbow shines
The happiness just doesn’t stay (2009)

Somehow, the world seems different and I feel like I see it through another set of eyes. Things seem gloomier when things just don’t make me happy on a normal basis. Life comes in as bleak and grey to me. Interestingly I came across this article (Friedman, 2010) that may give a kind of enlightenment to my curious observation. Recent biological findings provide a probable new perspective on how depression may affect our perception. 

In the University of Freiburg in Germany, Ludger Tebartz Van Elst a researcher hypothesized that depressed individuals “perceive the world as more gray”. He thus conducted a study on how depression can affect color perception. Findings indicate that depressed patients had a much more difficult time in rating the contrast levels of black and white images (Friedman, 2010). Biological aspects are executed with the help of a technological procedure involving a pattern electroretinogram (PERG). In his experiments he carried out another procedure which involved having the subjects watch a flashing image of a black and white checkerboard, while a scan recorded electrical impulses on the retina. This was to rule out the possibility that the difficulty in accomplishing the task is a mere case of decreased attention. 
depressed individuals perceive the world as more gray

Results show that of the 32 subjects with below-average contrast responses, only one was not “depressed” thus majority had trouble rating the contrast level of black and white images and were also depressed patients.  The hampered functioning of contrast perceiving retinal cells may be rooted to the fact that some of these interact with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in emotion and reward systems in the brain. Thus the hypothesis is supported and indicates that color perception is reduced in depressed individuals.
This study seems to give a plausible explanation on why some artists may depict sadness in gray tones. Personally I think this is very true of me. I’ve also done some drawing/sketching myself as another cathartic method of getting some heavy weight off of me. Below are some of the works I have done over the past years. See how much they lack color HAHA! 

A rather gray outlook in life. I sketched this back in 2009 

I sketched this in the same year. Whoa, what was happening to me in 2009? HAHAHA

No wonder people would often say to see the brighter side of things or to look at the world with rose-tinted glasses when things seem hopelessly “gray”.
I am overwhelmed and very much amazed by the findings of this research and I wish to read on more researches that is in line with it. I can only imagine the possibilities!! Brand new alternatives of treating people with depression and improvements on diagnosis are at hand. More of color therapy perhaps? Could allowing some tweaks in retinal performance as to improve the ability to perceive brightness of colors, help in curing Depression? 

Better Color perception = Happier outlook in life perhaps? :)

Friedman, L. F. (2010). Color me depressed: The blues make the world more gray.  Psychology Today, 43(6), 24-24, 1/2 p


  1. WOW truly malakas ang influence ng emotional state sa perception natin! i wonder if the contrapositive is true.. when we are overly happy can it enhance our perception too? possible research paper? hahahah but anywayssss smileeeeee! no to sadnessssss.. :D

  2. another question! could it be a feedback loop? people who naturally see things grayer develop depression? (and not just what Friedman said na depressed people see things grayer?).. HAHAHAHAHAHAH p.s. copy righted yung grad pic ni ace i bet ndi ka nagpaalam hahahah