What Color Is This Dress And Questions Of Perception In Divorce Mediation

By Tracy Fischer

This dress is creating an internet frenzy. It has even had an appearance on the network news – is it blue and black or white and gold? It turns out people interpret color in different ways, though the dress is actually blue and black. Each individual’s brain assigns more or less weight to a color, when other colors are weighed against each other it results in a totally different color perception.

When one looks at a picture and sees a specific color, it seems so obvious that there is one clear right answer and one clear wrong answer. In this conflict between what is right and what is wrong, the answer seems to be perception. The color of the dress is a direct example of how we, as unique individuals, see situations differently and may not be necessarily right or wrong.

This innocuous example can be applied to the conflicts couples have in life and in divorce. In divorce mediation, there are often disagreements about past situations. I am frequently amazed that individuals who took part in the same conversation or incident can have such radically different stories to tell. During the mediation process, I think about perception and why a couple may have perceived the situation so differently. Often, couples are heavily invested in what actually happened and whose version of the story is correct.

I believe the example of this dress can be especially helpful in understanding conflicting versions of events. It’s clear that people can see white and gold or blue and black and believe completely in their differing perceptions – even when looking at the same picture at the same time. Our brains are extremely complex. What we take in and how we process that information is unique to each of us. We can all use this concept to take a step back and think about a contradicting perception. One could say, “ Well, maybe my spouse does actually see it this way and is not fabricating the situation and is not crazy. If they do see it that way then what should my response be?”

If a participant in a conflict can remember that we all see things through the lens of our own individual brain and our past experiences, he or she may well be able to get past the conflict and move on to agree on how things should be handled in the future.