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The pigment molecules used in the eye are various, but can be used to define the evolutionary distance between different groups, and can also be an aid in determining which are closely related – although problems of convergence do exist.[1]

Opsins are the pigments involved in photoreception. Other pigments, such as melanin, are used to shield the photoreceptor cells from light leaking in from the sides. The opsin protein group evolved long before the last common ancestor of animals, and has continued to diversify since.[2]

There are two types of opsin involved in vision;

  • c-opsins, which are associated with ciliary-type photoreceptor cells, and
  • r-opsins, associated with rhabdomeric photoreceptor cells.[3]

The eyes of vertebrates usually contain cilliary cells with c-opsins, and (bilaterian) invertebrates have rhabdomeric cells in the eye with r-opsins. However, some ganglion cells of vertebrates express r-opsins, suggesting that their ancestors used this pigment in vision, and that remnants survive in the eyes.[3] Likewise, c-opsins have been found to be expressed in the brain of some invertebrates. They may have been expressed in ciliary cells of larval eyes, which were subsequently resorbed into the brain on metamorphosis to the adult form.[3] C-opsins are also found in some derived bilaterian-invertebrate eyes, such as the pallial eyes of the bivalve molluscs; however, the lateral eyes (which were presumably the ancestral type for this group, if eyes evolved once there) always use r-opsins.[3] Cnidaria, which are an outgroup to the taxa mentioned above, express c-opsins - but r-opsins are yet to be found in this group.[3] Incidentally, the melanin produced in the cnidaria is produced in the same fashion as that in vertebrates, suggesting the common descent of this pigment.[3]

Müller-Lyer illusion[]

In 1965, following a debate between Donald T. Campbell and Melville J. Herskovits on whether culture can influence such basic aspects of perception such as the length of a line, they suggested that their student Marshall Segall investigate the problem. In their definitive paper of 1966, they investigated seventeen cultures and showed that people in different cultures differ substantially on how they experience the Müller-Lyer stimuli. They write[4]

European and American city dwellers have a much higher percentage of rectangularity in their environments than non-europeans and so are more susceptible to that illusion.

They also used the word "carpentered" for the environments that Europeans mostly live in - characterized by straight lines, right angles, and square corners.

These conclusions were challenged in later work by Gustav Jahoda, who tested members of an African tribe living in a traditional rural environment vs. members of same group living in African cities. Here, no significant difference in susceptibility to the M-L illusion was found. Subsequent work by Jahoda suggested that retinal pigmentation may have a role in the differing perceptions on this illusion,[5] and this was verified later by Pollack (1970). It is believed now that not "carpenteredness", but the density of pigmentation in the eye is related to susceptibility to the M-L illusion. Dark-skinned people often have denser eye pigmentation.[6]

See also[]


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  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2008.10.025
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  5. Template:Cite article
  6. Cole, Michael; Barbara Means; Comparative Studies of How People Think: An Introduction, 1986. [1]