Women may be biologically hardwired to prefer pink, or at least redder colors than men do, research now reveals.
The findings are some of the first conclusive evidence to support the long-held notion that men and women differ when it comes to their favorite colors.
Scientists had student volunteers select, as rapidly as possible, their preferred color from among a series of paired, colored rectangles displayed on a computer screen. The universal favorite color for all people apparently is blue, they found.
In addition, female color preferences tended "slightly away from blue towards red, which tends to make pinks and lilacs the most preferred colors in comparison with others," said researcher Anya Hurlbert, director of the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University in England. Males tend to prefer green more than red, she added.
To see whether sex differences in color preference depend more on nature than nurture, the researchers tested 37 Chinese volunteers in addition to the other 171 white British participants. The results among Chinese volunteers were similar, Hurlbert said. She and colleague Yazhu Ling detailed their findings in the August 21 issue of the journal Current Biology.
"These are the first hints there may be some biological basis for color preferences," said Caltech cognitive neuroscientist Shinsuke Shimojo, who did not participate in this study. "I don't think this finding alone is sufficient to convince everyone, but I like their careful experimentation, and it opens up possibilities for further research."
Many differences are known to exist between the sexes when it comes to other visual abilities. For instance, females are better at visually searching for things and often use richer terminology when naming colors, while males are better at imagining what objects that get swiveled around look like.
Hurlbert told LiveScience she became interested in possible biological roots for sex differences in color preferences "partly because I was so struck by my daughter's desire for all things pink." She also recalled noticing a pink and lilac aisle at a drugstore, "a feminine hygiene and body products aisle, juxtaposed with a men’s deodorant and shaving cream aisle, which was dark browns and greens. Were marketers pandering to an innate preference? Why did they assume that girls liked pink?"
The reason women apparently prefer reddish colors might go back to humanity's ancient hunter-gatherer days on the savanna, when women—the primary gatherers—would have benefited from the ability to hone in on ripe fruits. Women might also have become focused on the reddening or blanching of faces often linked with mood as part of caregiver roles. "Culture may exploit and compound this natural female preference," Hurlbert said.
Future research should collect more data across cultures to see how true these findings hold, Shimojo said. Hurlbert and her colleagues also plan to modify their test for use in young babies, whose color preferences naturally should be less influenced by culture than adults. In addition, they will test if other factors influence color preferences, including age, personality and menstrual cycle.
to why there was a universal preference for blue, "I can only speculate," Hurlbert said. "Going back to our savanna days, we would have a natural preference for a clear blue sky, because it signaled good weather. Clear blue also signals a good water source."
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