Where Men See White, Women See Ecru

For many years scientists have suggested that women and men see colours differently but much of the evidence has been indirect, such as the linguistic research which suggested that women possess a larger vocabulary than men for describing colours. Experimental evidence has, however, been rare.

Now Israel Abramov, a psychologist and behavioural neuroscientist at CUNY’s Brooklyn College, has performed visual tests which provide evidence of systematic differences in physiological vision. When colours were projected the group of women were found to be better at discriminating among subtle differences in the middle of the colour spectrum, where yellow and green reside. Women detected differences between the yellows that appeared the same to the men. The researchers also found that the group of men required a slightly longer wavelength to see the same hue as the women. An object which the women experienced as orange appeared slightly more yellow to men, while green appeared more blue-green to the men. Abramov believes the explanation for the differences lies in testosterone and other androgens because animal studies suggests that male sex hormones can alter development of the visual cortex. While Abramov has an explanation for how the sexes see differently, he is less certain about why. One possibility is that it is an evolutionary adaptation that benefited hunter-gatherer societies. Males may have needed to see distant moving objects such as animals which they were hunting, while females may have had to be better judges of colour when gathering edible plants and herbs.



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