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Peter Vsevolodovich Yan'shin  


Psychology and psycho-semantics   OF COLOR   psychology      psycho-semantics       of color          psycho-semantics

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The evolution of the color vision
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On this page are placed the theses and the definitions, protected in the doctoral thesis of the author at the session of dissertation advice D 501.001.14 at the Moscow State University of M.V.Lomonosov 7- th of June 2001. Leading organization: Institute of psychology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The evolution of the color vision

Marketable opinion allots by the ability of the color vision only of person. So whether this?  

How many hundred millions years to human eye?

According to literature data (Kravkov, 1951;Pedkhem, Sonders, 1978; Hinde, 1975; Milne, Milne, 1966; Lindblad, 1991; Tinbergen, 1993; Tsollinger, 1995), the color vision is encountered at the very early stages of the evolutionary ladder: it possess already insects (bumblebees, bees, flies, butterflies). At the same time the range of sensitivity of insects lies in the ultraviolet region (to the detriment of the red), which does mean that to us are inaccessible many seen by them colors, and red probably they do perceive as infra-yellow (by analogy with our infrared), or as black. Best insects react to the yellow, dark-blue and violet hues, moreover, it is proved that to their behavior in this case influence not the ultraviolet or infrared rays, but the color differences (Tinbergen, 1993).

  At present it is considered, that among the vertebrates the presence of the color vision is encountered in all bony fishes, by the brightness frequently competing with the colors and the tail assembly of tropical birds, some amphibians (tropical frogs, toad, axolotl) and reptiles (agama, tortoise, lizard, geccon, snake). A number of laws governing the work of color receptor was studied precisely with the study of the retina of the fishes (by very similar to the retina of primates) and of the reptiles, but not on the retina of man. (Orlov, 1966; Pedkhem, Sonders, 1978; Chernorizov, 1995). Colors play role in the instinctive behavior of many forms of fishes. For example, red spot on the object is inherent relizers [1] of aggressive behavior for the male of stickleback, and some cichlides will recognize on the color their fry (Tinbergen, 1993;Khaynd, 1975).

Many day birds,  in contrast to the insects distinguish colors of the red region of the spectrum, and possess a good color vision. It is proved that the red color of many berries and red spots on the body (the beaks, tail assembly) serve as inherent relizers   of behavior of a number of birds species (silvery seagull, some parrots etc.) (Hinde, 1975; Tinbergen, 1995). Owls, however, living the night manner of life, and do not see colors in the red part of the spectrum (Milne, Milne, 1966).The inherent nature of color key stimuli with the food and sexual behavior for some forms of birds is proved. Finches, for example, do prefer females with the red small pile, the nestlings of silvery seagull do more willingly solicit fodder in parents with the red mark on the beak, ducklings do prefer to peck green fodder, and chickens - orange and dark-blue. Hess (see Hinde, 1975, p.532-533), gave to nestlings to peck many-colored fodder. It is possible to divide now all forms of birds into three categories in accordance with the differential sensitivity to the color: 1) sensitivity curve has two apexes: in the dark-blue and red regions of the spectrum; 2) one apex in the yellowish-green part; 3) the absence of the preference of any part of the spectrum. Let us note that the absence of the inherent preference of the color of fodder does not testify about the absence of the color vision.

Here it must be noted that the birds do not enter into human evolutionary branch. These are - the reptiles, which mastered airspace. Therefore the eye of birds - even is potential  analogs, but not the homologues of human eye.

The variety of the nuances of appearance is reached by both the insects and birds and fishes not only due to the coloring pigments, but also is caused by interference and diffraction phenomena ( the wings of butterflies or "eyes" on the tail of peacock). For these living beings the color vision plays important role during the multiplication (attraction), search for food and with survival (masking, mimicry). In the survey of Hinde (1975) is given the summary table of the differential reactivity of 17 different biological species on inherent key stimuli. In eight cases the color is described as the main sign, which causes reaction, in four cases, as secondary. It is interesting, that such important for existence role colors plays also for the plants, " which collaborate " with the insects and the birds.

Among the mammals - dogs and cats possess weak colored vision. Rodents (rabbits, mice), and also hoofed do not distinguish colors. Weak colored vision discovered in squirrels and rodents from the family of squirrel (marmots, gophers) (Orlov, 1966); it is absent or almost is absent in the majority of contemporary animals (guinea pigs, cows, horses, dogs, pigs, sheep so forth) (Milne, Milne, 1966).

Anthropomorphous monkeys and majorities of Primates possess the color vision similarly to man (Orlov, 1966).The lowest Primates (lemurs, lymuroyds) do not have color vision, since they are the night animals. In tailed monkeys is discovered the color vision of the type of protonophy: they distinguish only the dark-blue and yellow, gray instead of blue, red nuances are absent (Kravkov, 1951).

From the aforesaid it follows that the color vision - very ancient feature, which appeared earlier then life mastered land, and already then color had a signal function . The absence of color differentiation in the majority of mammals is explained by its subsequent loss: in the course of the evolution of mammals a quantity of species, which possess the color vision, constantly was reduced in consequence with the night manner of life. This partial loss of the color vision in consequence with the night manner of life (owl, tailed monkeys, etc.) are caused protonophy, the loss of differentiation of the colors of the red edge of spectrum. The illustration of protonophy is human scotopic vision and shift of Purkinje. In the twilights the colors of the red part of the spectrum become the nuances of gray and brown. In opposite, dark-blue become brighter and more saturated. Probably, the same way see the colors the night animals with the residual color vision.

From the comparison of structure and physiology of a retina, and also colorimetric studies of more than 30 representatives of five classes of vertebral (fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, the mammals) O.U. Orlov  draws the conclusion that at the basis of color differentiation can lie the very different combinations of color receivers. The fact is that the similarity and difference in the systems do not correlate with the degree of systematic proximity or distance of the corresponding groups (species). The systematically distant  groups, such as fishes and Primates, do have very similar systems of the color vision, whereas in class limits of mammals (Primates, squirrel, cat) and especially among the reptiles (tortoise, agama, geccon, snake) the variety is very great (Orlov, 1966, p. 19). I.e. the organs of the color vision of the lowest vertebrates (excluding fishes) strongly differs in its structure even in close forms!

For explaining this fact O.U. Orlov is joined to the theory of the transmutation based on the fact of conversion (transmutation) of the receptors of one type in to another.  It is then very probable that the color vision of contemporary vertebrates did develop as a result of its independent and repeated appearance among several groups, which does explain the visible absence of succession between the different groups. (Orlov, 1966, p. 20).  

But this is - only assumption, capable of explaining difference, but not similarity. The striking similarity between the retina of fishes and primates here is explained through the hypothesis of the convergence of distant forms in the course of evolution, i.e., the chance.

Nothing prevents us from advancing another explanation to the similarity between the structure of the color analyzer of fishes and man, it is explained by the continuous line of the succession of the structure of retina from the fishes to the primates. Then the fact of the presence of the color vision in man and primates attests to the fact that none of the biological ancestors of contemporary man conducted the sufficiently prolongedly night manner of life. This explanation is not less plausible than that, according to which the primates randomly "reproduced anew" the color analyzer of fishes. 

It is in doubt  whether sometimes will be succeeded in obtaining the direct proofs of this hypothesis. In contrast to the bones, soft tissues do not remain millions years. It is possible to give only circumstantial evidence. Even the first lemurs possessed the color vision (Lindblad, 1991).[ 2 ]  We do accept hypothesis, that we inherit the color vision from the lowest vertebrates (fishes), which is proved by the anatomical, physiological, chemical and structural similarity of the structure of retina, then the color vision should be studied not on the primates, but on the fishes, as this already is done (Pedkhem, Sonders, 1978; Chernorizov, 1995). Indeed, the carp is already had all three types of cones and even the detectors of opponent type. 

Thus, facts testify in favor that the evolution of color analyzer occurred in parallel with the development of the anatomic and functional differentiation of central nervous system (intermediate, average brain, crust), on the "vertical line", but not to the side of the differentiation of the color sensitive cells of the peripheral division of analyzer (cones of retina). The retention (even small expansion) of range of sensitivity with the improvement of the structure of color analyzer in the course of the ground-based evolution of the highest vertebrates, as well as repeated restoration of the color vision after the "temporary" loss in the course of the evolution of the remaining classes of vertebrates proves, that the color plays the significant role in the vital activity. On the central value of color differentiation for the man testifies at least the fact that all 6,5 million cones,  both in the carp and in man, are located in fovea - central visual pit, the region of a maximally clear vision.

Thus, while the color vision in other warm-blooded animals degraded, in our ancestors it evolved. This also means that human eye, in principle, as much millions years, as the eye of fish!

[1] Relizer -  the English translation of the term, for the first time introduced By K. Lorenz; designates the sign of the object of medium, provoking one or other form or another of instinctive behavior.

[2] May be by this, partly, it is possible to explain value relation to Light and to the Sun in mythology, religion and mysticism, and the negative relation to Darkness?

[3] Protonopy- the absence of sensitivity to the red color

[4] Trichromates- people with the normal color vision.

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