Color Blindness

Do color blind people really see only black and white?

The term "color blindness" confuses many people. The topic of color blindness is fascinating because of its complexity. Many people believe that anyone labeled as "color blind" is only able to see the colors of black and white. However, it is extremely rare to be totally color blind. Although there are exceptions, most patients affected by color blindness are able to see colors other than black and white—they just perceive them in a different way.

An Ishihara Chart for testing color-blindness
SSPL / Getty Images

It's Not All Black and White

Colorblind people seem to have trouble differentiating colors and may simply confuse one color with another. We all have cones in our eyes that enable us to see colors. We have red, blue, and green cones that help us to see those colors as well as combinations of those colors. In order to see all colors correctly, a person needs to have all three types of cones. A person who is color blind doesn't have normal cones or the cones don't work properly. If the cones fail to function correctly or make the wrong combinations, the brain doesn't receive the correct messages about the colors you are perceiving. For example, a color blind person may perceive a green leaf as gray or tan.

Color blindness is often inherited, but may also occur because of eye, nerve, or brain damage, or from exposure to certain chemicals. Although it is not thought of as a debilitating condition, color blindness can be very frustrating to a person affected by it. Eye doctors can test for color blindness during an eye examination. One test is a picture made up of different colored dots. The doctor will ask you to identify a picture located in the center of the dots. If a patient cannot make out a picture, he may be considered to be colorblind.

A Word From Verywell

Did you know that boys are far more likely to be color blind than girls? Surprisingly, about 1 out of every 12 boys is at least a little color blind. Boys are more affected because the gene for color blindness is located on the X chromosome. Since males only possess one X chromosome, they are more likely to be affected as they only need to have one defective gene. Women have two X chromosomes so they would need to have the defective gene on both of them to suffer from color blindness.

The sooner color blindness is detected, the better. Early diagnosis is crucial in preventing possible learning difficulties at school where adjustments can be made in order to help the student at school.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Eye Institute. Types of Color Blindness.

  2. National Institutes of Health. New color vision pathway unveiled.

  3. American Optometric Association. Color vision deficiency.

  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine Genetics Home Reference. Color vision deficiency.