The dress/Tumblr mania got me to thinking about the implications of it all…
Q: Did you review pictures of the the suspect leaving the bank ?
Q: What did you observe in the pictures?
A: The suspect was wearing a hat, sunglasses, and a white dress with gold Horizontal stripes.
Q: Are you sure?
A: Of course. The picture was crystal clear.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, as the evidence clearly shows, on the day of the crime, my client was wearing a blue dress with black stripes. The eyewitness to this crime clearly identified the thief as wearing a white dress with gold stripes.
If the colors don’t fit, you must acquit!
(kicker: The colors of the dress in the picture that appeared to be white and gold , was in fact black and blue.)
By now, you probably have had your fill of the “dress” story: A picture posted on Tumblr on Thursday night depicting a blue dress with black stripes that appears to most as white with gold stripes. By the following Friday Night, over 28 million people had viewed it. A Buzzfeed poll of 3 million people revealed that 70% of those polled incorrectly “saw” the dress as white with gold stripes.
But how will courts and juries deal with misperceptions of things by the eyes of witnesses? Especially when the witnesses honestly believe that what their eyes are telling their brains is accurate?
At the discretion of the court, expert witnesses can offer testimony to clarify misperceptions. As in the example above, an expert could testify that although some of the jurors might “see” gold and white in the picture in question, the image is actually that of a blue dress with black stripes.
Wired has an interesting article about the science of why perception misperception exists.
Regardless of how you come out on this, the argument that eyewitness testimony is suspect has been bolstered by this latest social media eruption. The passion that people have on this, and the incredulous reactions some have when learning that others see it differently from them, is also curious. I think the realization that something that seems so clear (white and gold), is clearly wrong (blue and black), is unsettling, for both the white/golders and blue/blackers.
The impact of this on our legal system and adjudication of cases remain to be seen.
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