Yes, your favorite color is blue. Most of you, anyway. Except some women, who go for the redder part of the red-green axis.
A lot of science sites got a press release from Current Biology and went with the "women do prefer pink" headline without even reading the abstract much less the actual article, which is why you're smart enough to read about it here instead. In fact, if you read a story today that had "Girls prefer pink ..." somewhere in it, you can guess some journalist phoned that one in. Or they just copied the press release verbatim.(1)
The idea behind this latest study was to find out if there was a sex-based difference between the color preferences of men and women. And there was. Sort of. It may even be an evolutionary trait, the researchers say.
"Evolution may have driven females to prefer reddish colors--reddish fruits, healthy, reddish faces," said Anya Hurlbert of the Institute of Neuroscience and School of Biology and Psychology, Newcastle University. "Culture may exploit and compound this natural female preference."
What does that mean? Well, nothing. 'May' in science sounds better than just admitting you are guessing. That's been the issue with these kinds of color studies all along. “Bewildering, confused and contradictory” is how she and co-author Yazhu Ling described prior studies.
There is some evidence for sex differences in visual preferences so it only makes sense someone would do a rigorous study. That's what Hurlbert and Ling set out to do.
In their study, they asked men and women to choose their preferred color from pairs of colored rectangles. To make sure the preference was not cultural they included a few Chinese people in the otherwise British caucasian sample.
The results were conclusive enough that they say they can reasonably predict the sex of someone based on their color preference - much like you can often do if you know someone listens to Taylor Hicks or Megadeth. Hurlbert confessed to once buying a pink briefcase so even she agrees circumstantially with her results.
Should womens' preferences for the redder part of blue colors be an indication that those "My Little Pony" marketers have been right all along? Not scientifically, though our ancestors dressed girls in pink without any data and they probably had good reason.
So why all the hubbub about pink? Sexual politics? Roles for women? And if there is an evolutionary reason for reds among women, how do we explain everyone liking blue?
"I can only speculate," says Hurlbert. "I would favor evolutionary arguments again here. Going back to our ‘savannah’ 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."
Hurlbert and Ling say the next step will be to test the color preferences of infants to separate the "nature vs. nurture" element of color preference.
(1) Well, we sometimes do that here too. But not when it counts.