It is Genetic, Boys Like Blue, Girls Like Pink

Bryan RAugust 24th, 2007
By: Bryan R

You’ve heard it everywhere: “Boys like blue and girls like pink.”

The fact that the two sexes prefer different colors is well-known, and yet baffling, because it’s unexplainable. Theories abound as to why this is true.

For example, one theory holds that blue is somehow stoic, which is why males are naturally drawn to the color, while pink is more emotional and thus appeals to females. Other theories suggest that it’s simply a choice that society has dictated, pushed on us from the moment we come out of the womb. These educated guesses could be true. However, scientists have also wondered if this preference is connected to genetics and evolutionary processes.

Enter Anya Hurlbert and Yazhu Ling, two scientists based out of Newcastle University upon Tyne. These two decided to look deeper for reasons to explain the gender color preference. The curious duo systematically tested men and women to determine if there is a genetic connection between color preference and gender.

The testing was fairly simple; men and women from the UK were shown various pairs of colors and were told to select a preference as quickly as possible. The scientists found that women predominantly preferred brighter hues such as reds and pinks, while men were inclined to choose blues, and to a lesser extent, greens. After seeing the results, Hurlbert and Ling came up with another question: were their findings simply a product of Western culture?

To examine this question, they decided to study the responses of visiting Chinese students as well. Hurlbert and Ling found that the Chinese subjects displayed color preferences similar to those of the UK test subjects. Women preferred reddish hues while men favored bluish hues, though not as strongly as their Western counterparts. Also, the scientists found that men, in general, chose their color preference faster than women.

After Hurlbert and Ling established their findings, their next step was to suggest a reason to explain the genetic dispositions for color preference. They hypothesized that this preference is a product of evolutionary division of labor. The theory goes back to early human history, when most humans were part of hunter-gatherer groups. Men were primarily responsible for hunting, and women were in charge of gathering.

Since most ripe fruit comes in colors of red, pink or yellow, a successful gatherer would need to have a keen eye or a genetic preference for the brighter hues. Women who were better at identifying the ripe fruit had a greater intake of calories and were more likely to be stronger, live longer, appear more attractive and bear a greater number children. On the other hand, men did not need this skill and so never evolved to favor these colors.

Hurlbert suggested another intriguing reason for the color preference: women needed to detect small changes in skin color to discern emotional states. This ability is usually more important to females than to men, because females typically rely more on social networks than males.

So, the next time you find yourself picking out a pink sweater or blue shirt, there might be more to your choice than just the act of picking out an outfit. Your choice might be a result of hard-coded genes deep within.

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