Ben Goldacre over at Bad Science has written a great analysis of a recent study that suggested we have the traditional ‘pink for girls, blue for boys’ because of evolutionary differences in colour preference.
However, it seems not only are the study’s findings not strong enough to make an evolutionary claim, but that the ‘pink for girls, blue for boys’ idea is relatively recent and hardly as traditional as we like to think.
The data itself is interesting if not a little unspectacular. Men and women from the UK showed different colour preference curves with men showing a preference for bluer shades over women.
In a sample of Chinese participants the preference was much less pronounced and peaked at more redder shades overall.
One of the curses of evolutionary psychology, the science that attempts to work out whether any of our psychological preferences are the result of natural or sexual selection, is that any sex difference is fodder for an evolutionary explanation.
Actually, we know there are definite differences in colour perception between men and women. There’s a great paper that summarises the scientific evidence which available online as a pdf.
There are sex-linked differences in specific genes that are linked to colour perception, which is why men are more likely to be colour blind and perhaps 1% of women may have four, rather than three, colour receptors in the retina.
But as Ben points out, simply finding a sex difference in colour preference really doesn’t tell us anything about genetics or evolution. It could easily just be an effect of culture or fashion.