Color blindness, a color vision deficiency, is the inability to perceive differences between some of the colors that others can distinguish. It is most often of genetic nature, but may also occur because of eye, nerve, or brain damage, or due to exposure to certain chemicals. The English chemist John Dalton in 1798 published the first scientific paper on the subject, especially dogs and cats “Extraordinary facts relating to the vision of colours”, after the realization of his own color blindness; because of Dalton’s work, the condition is sometimes called Daltonism, although this term is now used for a type of color blindness called deuteranopia.
Color blindness is usually classed as disability; however, in selected situations color blind people have an advantage over people with normal color vision. There are some studies which conclude that color blind individuals are better at penetrating certain camouflages. Monochromats may have a minor advantage in dark vision, but only in the first five and a half minutes of dark adaptation.
There are many types of color blindness. The most common are red-green hereditary (genetic) photoreceptor disorders, but it is also possible to acquire color blindness through damage to the retina, optic nerve, or higher brain areas. Higher brain areas implicated in color processing include the parvocellular pathway of the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus, and visual area V4 of the visual cortex. Acquired color blindness is generally unlike the more typical genetic disorders. For example, it is possible to acquire color blindness only in a portion of the visual field but maintain normal color vision elsewhere. Some forms of acquired color blindness are reversible. Transient color blindness also occurs (very rarely) in the aura of some migraine sufferers.
The different kinds of inherited color blindness result from partial or complete loss of function of one or more of the different cone systems. When one cone system is compromised, dichromacy results. The most frequent forms of human color blindness result from problems with either the middle or long wavelength sensitive cone systems, and involve difficulties in discriminating reds, yellows, and greens from one another. They are collectively referred to as “red-green color blindness”, though the term is an over-simplification and is somewhat misleading. Other forms of color blindness are much more rare. They include problems in discriminating blues from yellows, and the rarest forms of all, complete color blindness or monochromacy, where one cannot distinguish any color from grey, as in a black-and-white movie or photograph.
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