In my local paper I came across an article from Reuters London reporting a new scientific study that showed: ” Boys like blue, girls like pink and there isn’t much anybody can do about it, researchers said on Monday in one of the first studies to show scientifically that there are gender-based colour preferences.”
Scientific American has run the Reuters article verbatim: starting with the above quote. Newspapers everywhere are proclaiming the above line or something even more scientific sounding like that of the Toronto Star : “A new study, appearing this month in Current Biology finds for the first time that girls are hard-wired to like pink.“
In this study 208 subjects age 20-26 looked at pairs of coloured rectangles and picked the one they preferred as quickly as possible. While both sexes preferred blue tones, more women picked reddish-blue tones than men. Based on the evidence, the conclusions published around the world are sheer nonsense and, sadly, people will believe those conclusions have been proven by science.
In the summary of her paper submitted to Current Biology researcher Anya Hurlbert talks about how no previous studies have found sex differences in colour preference and “This fact is perhaps surprising, given the prevalence and longevity of the notion that little girls differ from boys in preferring pink.”
First off, in order for little girls to prefer pink they would need to be offered a choice. Babies and toddlers have no choice in the colours they are dressed in, girls are born surrounded by pink and boys by blue. Walk down the girls’ aisle in the toy store – what colour is everything? What would little girls play with if it wasn’t pink? How often do they have a choice between a blue, green or pink Barbie car? The choice is pink or pink or pink. Any little boy who who loves pink is quickly re-directed to the correct toys and colours. It is parents and marketers that choose pink for girls and blue for boys, not the children themselves.
It’s interesting to note the age of the subjects. Previous studies found no differences between the preferences of males and females. Subjects age 20-26 have been more heavily subjected to consumer culture, more toys and television than any other generation. Also interesting that Chinese subjects of both sexes had a greater preference for reddish tones than the British subjects. In Chinese culture red is considered a lucky colour.
Hurlbert explains these findings as having a biological basis because to her it seems logical that women would prefer reddish colours because it helped early females find fruit and be attentive to babies’ skin colour changes such as fever. However there was no evidence in her experiment that women noticed the colours faster, only that they preferred these shades.
If we’re going to look at this from an evolutionary perspective and let’s assume it’s true for a moment that women are hard-wired to prefer pink. If it were true, wouldn’t every man looking for a hot date be wearing some shade of pink?
Ben Goldacre on Bad Science points out that choosing pink for girls is only a recent cultural phenomenon. He quotes a 1918 Ladies Home Journal that says girls should wear blue and boys should wear pink because “pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”
It doesn’t really matter what colour you prefer as long as the truth remains that males are strong because they are the hunters and females are dainty because they are the berry pickers.
I abhor pink consumer goods, but I’m a darn good berry picker. So perhaps I need to accept that, perhaps, biologically I’m a Neanderthal.
In the comments Nikku said: This article is misleading as female humans preferring a slightly redder shade of blue has nothing to do with liking a pink shirt. EXACTLY! That’s my point. To use this data to say that girls are hardwired to like pink is just bad, bad science. Trouble is all the media in the English world, and maybe more, said this proved that girls liking pink is a hard-wired trait. It’s now three years later and if you Google “Girls like pink” you will read the following: “A new study, appearing this month in Current Biology, finds for the first time that girls are hard-wired to like pink.” — and that is just wrong on so many levels.