Evolution may have driven women's preference for pink, according to the study published today.
'The explanation might date back to humans' hunter-gatherer days, when women were the primary gatherers and would have benefited from an ability to home in on ripe, red fruits. Culture may exploit and compound this natural female preference', says Professor Anya Hurlbert, Professor of Visual Neuroscience at Newcastle University.
The study, which is published in the latest issue of Current Biology, provides new scientific evidence in support of the long-held notion that men and women differ when it comes to their favourite colours.
'Although we expected to find gender differences, we were surprised at how robust they were, given the simplicity of our test,' says Professor Hurlbert.
The study is the first to show that colour preference can be broken down into two elements: red-greenness and blue-yellowness. These are the biological mechanisms that underlie colour. Girls and boys differ in the emphasis they give to these two fundamental components.
In the test, young adult men and women were asked to select, as rapidly as possible, their preferred colour from each of a series of paired, coloured rectangles.
While the test revealed that the universal favourite colour appears to be blue , the researchers found that females had a preference for the red end of the red-green axis.
'This shifts their colour preference slightly away from blue towards red, which tends to make pinks and lilacs the most preferred colours in comparison with others,' says Professor Hurlbert, who carried out the study along with research associate, Dr Yazhu Ling.
The test included a small group of Chinese people among the other 171 British Caucasian study participants to establish whether gender differences in colour preference depend more on biology or culture. According to Professor Hurlbert, the results among the Chinese participants were similar, strengthening the idea that the gender differences might be biological.
Overall, the differences between men and women were substantial enough that the seasoned researchers can now usually predict the sex of a participant based on their 'favourite colour' profile.
The researchers plan to modify the colour-choice test for infants to further test the 'nature versus nurture' theory.
However, Professor Hurlbert says she could only speculate about the universal preference for blue: 'Here again, I would favour evolutionary arguments. Going back to our 'savannah' days, we would have a natural preference for a clear blue sky, because it signalled good weather. Clear blue also signals a good water source', she says.
Reproduced with permission of Current Biology
published on: 20th August 2007