Introducing my Super Power: Tetrachromacy


I think I may have mentioned, last week, that I had something I was going to tell you about. A 'top secret' type of thingy which I wasn't allowed to go public with until I got the green light. As of yesterday, Green Light granted. Go.

At the beginning of December, I had a Japanese film crew here filming me for a popular show in Japan called, 'Science Mystery'. Most who know me well responded to that sentence with a non-plussed, "Of course you did" . The show is comprised of 2 segments, each 20 minutes long featuring people with genetic oddities. This is where I come in.

I suppose that if I were to pick a super power, invisibility would be pretty cool, as I like to investigate things in an undetected way - just for my own personal knowledge. Flying would be out as I'm a major acrophobe and I'd only probably fly a foot off of the floor and that's really more like hovering. So that'd be a waste. X-ray vision? mmmmmmm.nah. I'm not that curious. Besides, I prefer to see most folk with their clothes on. But what if I could see in a way that 98% of women can't and no man can see? A way that is more beautiful, more multi-dimensional....more colorful--100 million times more colorful. Or as one of my dear, more experimental friends said, 'Like you're on an acid trip'. ok, that sounds scary...but it's along the same lines as what I've been experiencing my whole life.


From the time I was really small. I knew that I saw color in a way that most people didn't. When I was five or so, I can remember asking my parents to paint my room 'Green'. When the painter finished his job, it was all wrong. Yes it was,'Green' but there were colors, that I couldn't explain for lack of vocabulary, within the Green that were making it all wrong. In my giant box of 120 crayons with the sharpener in back, I couldn't stand that whatever genius laid out the colors had them wrong by shade. Although subtle, the blues to greens and the pink to peaches were all wrong in sequence.

Eventually I reasoned with myself that everyone must see color differently. We're all just calling it by the same name. And so life went on, and I'd get funny looks when describing color to people- The color of an Autumn sky filled with so much pink it practically vibrates. Whites that had too much Black and felt cold. Blacks filled with brown and bits of yellow, too simple - Blacks should be more complex. Crazy? Ya, I sort of tucked that thought away too. I, obviously, was beyond obsessed with color. It came before shape or form, always at the forefront of anything I saw.

Last Spring, I was listening to a podcast while doing some desk work. The podcast, a science show called, Radio Lab was discussing a genetic oddity, which was so rare, that it was thought that only 2% of people (women only) have it. It's an oddity that is the result of a gene mutation. A gene mutation that gives the person with it, 'SUPER COLOR VISION'. yep. Super. Color. Vision. My god. The more I listened, the more I started nodding. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. The interviews with women who had this super power sounded just like my own experiences. Due to having an extra color cone receptor in their eyes,  they were seeing over 100 million colors. The average person only sees about a million colors.

 This condition, a mutation, has a name to it: TETRACHROMACY. I'm not going to go into the technical stuff here, but I'll give you links at the end if you're curious.

So, I contacted the Neuroscientist who specializes in Tetrachromacy, I was then tested (spitting into a vile and sending off to the lab at University of Washington in  Seattle), FujiTV found out about it, wanted to do a show on it, came here, to L.A., from Japan to film me and then flew me up to Seattle for more filming. The show is going to be aired on January 19th. But you have to live in Japan to see it, I think. They'll be sending me a dvd of it later in the month. Maybe I can figure out how to get it uploaded to Vimeo, so I can share it with you.

In the mean time, I'm thinking we'll have a Super Powers screening at my house. Everyone can wear capes, ride in on Unicorns, drink saki and I'll hand out glasses with projecting eyeballs on springs.

 Oh, and if any of you big paint companies want to talk to me about helping you out in some capacity ... let me know. I can provide you the edge over your competitors, developing colors you didn't even know existed. Shazam!

** there is an unofficial test you can take on line if you're interested. Go here to take it.

(To know if you truly have the gene mutation that causes Tetrachromacy, you have to have your DNA tested. )

You can listen to the Radio Lab show on Tetrachromacy, that I first heard here (at about 10:20 it gets really interesting) :


Charlotta Ward said…
This is amazing! But of course I always knew you had super powers (xox). You and your wonderful Auntie, who I love also.

Tetrachromacy. I am definitely going to read more on this. Find it very interesting and I hope we get to watch the show.
I too had and have issues with colour sorting in the commercial world.. They just don't do it right!

Lots of love from afar from your not so super-powerful at the moment friend.

Leigh Chandler said…
This is the coolest thing I have ever heard! Wow, would I love to have your super powers as color is so important to me! I also used to rearrange my boxes of crayons! I didn't believe in their idea of the order they had them in. I think you should contact your favorite paint company and consult! Can't wait to see the video! Next up - you on all the morning talk/news shows in NYC!
Momdaw said…
Can you tell me the url for the color arranging test?
beachbungalow8 said…
here is the link for the, unofficial, on-line test.
Deborah said…
Taking the test was so much fun - I could have done it all day. Perfect score - whatever that may mean. Shall I check further? Maybe.. Thanks for the interesting post Megan!
beachbungalow8 said…
Deborah, maybe you DO have the mutated gene! I think there are probably a lot of us out there. The next step is getting a genetic test to find out. I contacted, Dr. Jay Neitz at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Let me know if you find out for sure, for sure
dosankodebbie said…
I live in Japan. I will definitely watch this, and will return to comment again after I see it.
Deborah said…
Contacted Dr. Neitz - Will let you know the outcome.
Thanks Megan!
Margaret Musante said…
Megan, I found this post incredibly interesting. I scored a 3 on the hue test with very beat up and dirty glasses that have a five year old prescription that has been not strong enough for quite awhile. In looking around the Internet I saw a sunflower that had these amazing violet and purple tips. The caption said that is how the all yellow sunflower in the picture beside it looks to a tetrachromat. Is that how things look for you? How utterly fascinating. I am so curious about this subject. Margaret Musante
P.S. The colors here in Santa Barbara are so beautiful. I think you might explode if you don't keep your sunglasses on.
Kathy said…
This is so cool! I took the test and scored a 7. Fun.
vicki archer said…
Incredible... to think that you didn't know why you saw the world so differently for so long...
Have a happy weekend Megan... xv
dosankodebbie said…
I'm watching the Science Mystery show right now. It's a two-hour special tonight, and I had to sit through one and a half hours of oppressively tragic stories before they got to your refreshingly upbeat segment. They're going back and forth between you and another woman with the same "super power." Did you meet her? It seems like they're taking the view that your special ability may represent a new and positive stage in human evolution. Oops, the segment is over. That was fast. Well, it's waaaay past my bedtime, so I'll say Good Night from Japan. :)
beachbungalow8 said…
Margaret- so what I see that, I guess someone who is a trichromat doesn't see is color within color. When I look at say, a yellow flower, I don't see just yellow, I see many, many colors. In nature, it's insane how many colors make up other colors. Where as with man made colors, the colors seem 'flatter'. It's hard to explain, but you know how you look at the beach from a far and it 'reads' tan or sand colored? But then if you were to walk onto the beach, grab a handful of the sand, you'd see all of the variations that make up that color. I see that all of the time. If you show me blue, I see a lot of colors that make up that blue. It's really hard to explain so I'm curious how they will explain it in the show.
Shira said…
I'm very late to this party, but: I've taken that test you linked to several times in the past few years and always get 0 - but I know it's not a test for tetrachromacy, so basically what I'm asking is how does my score of 0 relate to that?

Also, it was so good to read someone else talking/thinking about colour the way I always have! I'm synaesthetic, so as well as just the look of colours, I'm often utterly transfixed by the taste and feel of them too :)
dunlizzie said…
I only just heard of tetrachromy and found this post as a result of looking up more. I took the unofficial test you posted and scored perfectly right away, but like the previous commenter, am wondering how this particular acuity test relates more specifically to tetrachromacy. I find it fascinating. Thanks.
secretplanet said…
don't forget the part of the podcast where they pitted the male artist against the tetrachromat in a colour matching test & they scored very similarly! humans are very clever creatures & can learn to discriminate colours extremely well! i thought that was lovely! such a pity we can't do an online test to see if we're real tetrachromats! according to the folks doing the tetrachromacy project at the newcastle university (in Britain) computer monitors are designed for trichromat vision, so it can't be done. and i can't afford a trip to britain (from australia), or the expensive DNA test! dammit! so i figure since i score very well on the tests i can do, have the colour blind males around me, & all the same signs & symptoms you have, I'll just go around telling people i'm a tetrachromat!
Anonymous said…
Hi there! I am really curious, in your post "Introducing my Super Power: Tetrachromacy" you have an image that contains three color-blind testing circles (A red circle, yellow circle, and green circle). Can you see something in the circles? If so, what do you see?

Thank you!
AJK said…
I'm a Color Stylist at Disney Television Animation. I may have tetrachromacy. I've taken the test you link to, and I get a perfect score, but I still sense that some of the colors are not perfect even in the perfect order. (some feel darker than others). I have male siblings that are red-green color blind as well as my father. I wonder if I should bother with testing.
C.Fergy said…
It's thought now that up to 8% of men may be tetrachromats, and that its several times more common in women - and also that there are varying degrees of tetrachromacy. I'm a 31 year old male, and scored perfect on that test, and as some of the other people on this site have commented, I had a hard time with it because some of the colors were not perfectly in order, though there was a "best fit." I think I'll send of some spit to that scientist.
Unknown said…
Hello! I just found out about tetrachromancy and I find it fascinating! Color has always been extremely important to me and the most subtle of shades can either make me like or hate an object aesthetically. I took the test and got a perfect score! However, I'm not sure that this means I'm tetrachromatic, it could just mean I have good color sense. (Although some reading on tetrachromancy indicates that it is commonly connected to women who have color blind males in their family, and that is true from my mother's side.) Is it worth finding out more? I admit, I would love finding out that I DO have tetrachromancy!What do you think?

Anonymous said…
I get perfect score from the color arrange test, but I´m more curious about the tetrachomacytest (red, yellow, green circles). If I look those on certain way, I can´t see yellow circle anymore. Instead I see kind of olive-greenish-orange circle, which also pops out, when at the same time red and green circles kind of seem to be further away. Curious if this means anything, how do you see it Megan?
Unknown said…
I got a perfect score on the test. But I'm curious if that is actually an indicator of tetrachromacy or not, further research should be able to tell me.
French Toast said…
Ugh, I feel so much envy! I just recently found out about tetrachromats. I wish I could see all of those colors!
Ida Olsen said…
Got a perfect score!

Your score: 0
Gender: Female
Age range: 20-29
Best score for your gender and age range: 0
Highest score for your gender and age range: 19760

I've always heard I'm good with colours, but I didn't think there was a name to it. All males in my family are also red/green colour blind. I found it easy to do the red/orange/pink parts of the test and struggled a bit more with the blues/greens, and when reading more about this I found that this is a thing for people with tetrachromacy? It really helps though, as I do a lot of colour editing with being a photographer.

I remember having a discussion about colours once, and I found it easier to explain colours by describing different shades as slightly colder or warmer.

Maybe I've got the mutant gene?
Unknown said…
I can see the 42. Is that a normal color test or a tetrachromacy one? If it is the latter I have to get some testing. I really, really doubt that I have this however as I am a man.
Krissy said…
Your score: 0
Gender: Female
Age range: 20-29
Best score for your gender and age range: 0
Highest score for your gender and age range: 19760
0 ( Perfect Color Acuity )99 ( Low Color Acuity )

Whoot! Perfect score!
However, Colors have always seen HD and vibrant to me. But I don't think I'm tetrachromic. Maybe just really anti-color blind?

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