When shopping for baby gifts, everyone knows that blue is for boys and pink is for girls. But now there's evidence that those colors may be more than just marketing gimmicks. According to a new study in the Aug. 21 issue of Current Biology, women may be biologically programmed to prefer the color pink or, at least, redder shades of blue more than men.
Anya Hurlbert and Yazhu Ling, neuroscientists at Newcastle University conducted a color-selection experiment with 208 volunteers between the ages of 20 and 26. Participants were asked to move a mouse cursor as quickly as possible to their preferred color from a series of paired, colored rectangles, controlled for hue, saturation and lightness. Each person completed three separate tests, then was retested two weeks later.
On average, the study found, all people generally prefer blue, something researchers have long known. The study also found that while both men and women liked blue, women tended to pick redder shades of blue reddish-purple hues while men preferred blue-green. To assess whether the color preferences could have been due to culture, the researchers tested 37 Han Chinese volunteers from mainland China, along with the 171 British Caucasian participants, and found the same male-female differences. Though the Chinese participants showed a greater overall preference for red than their British counterparts (red is considered an auspicious color in China), Chinese women and men diverged in color preference predictably along the red-green axis.
“This is the first study to pinpoint a robust sex difference in the red-green axis of human color vision,” says Yazhu Ling, co-author of the study. “And this preference has an evolutionary advantage behind it.”
Ling speculates that the color preference and women's ability to better discriminate red from green could have evolved due to sex-specific divisions of labor: while men hunted, women gatherered, and they had to be able to spot ripe berries and fruits. Another theory suggests that women, as caregivers who need to be particularly sensitive to, say, a child flushed with fever, have developed a sensitivity to reddish changes in skin color, a skill that enhances their abilities as the “emphathizer.”
Ling says that she and her colleagues plan to expand their research in future studies to other cultures not only British and Chinese and age groups, including infants, to further test the nature-versus-nurture concept.