A human being can perceive about one million different colors, but researchers say that a small number of women are able to see a hundred times that amount. It sounds crazy, and yes, finding out who these women with supercolor power isn't an easy task.
The science of this colorful gift is determined by special neurons located at the retinas. These neurons convert incoming light into the electrical signals that send information back to your brain about color. A typical retina houses millions of cones, and these cones generally fall into just three categories. Each category of cone is capable of identifying around 100 different hues, but when they're paired with either of the remaining two groups of cones, their powers complement each other. And because of that, the number of perceivable colors increases from just 100 to 10,000 (1002). A combo of all three cones sends that number up to a million colors (1003).
While many mutated genes reside on the X chromosome that makes color blindness more common among men than women, it creates another possibility of a small percentage of women who may actually possess four color cones.
According to Discovery Magazine, neuroscientist Gabriele Jordan explains this rare trait of women who may experience the world in colors the rest of us can't begin to imagine:
[These women] might experience a range of colors invisible to the rest. It's possible these so-called tetrachromats see a hundred million colors , with each familiar hue fracturing into a hundred more subtle shades for which there are no names, no paint swatches. And because perceiving color is a personal experience, they would have no way of knowing they see far beyond what we consider the limits of human vision.
The fact that Jordan is seeking women who have no idea their perception of the world is different makes finding these extraordinary women a lot more difficult.
Jay Neitz, a vision researcher at the University of Washington, thinks that potential tetrachromats may need practice to awaken their abilities. "Most of the things that we see as colored are manufactured by people who are trying to make colors that work for trichromats," he says. "It could be that our whole world is tuned to the world of the trichromat." He also suspects the natural world may not have enough variation in color for the brain to learn to use a fourth cone.
Essentially, we could be living among people who have no idea they have some kind of supervision going on. And chances are we're keeping them from actually realizing their true potential, whatever it may be. We can't help but wonder what rainbows look like to them.