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Study: Women See Color Better

Monday, March 18, 2013

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Guys who are weighing a choice between Brewski Burnish and Sandy Suds for their next man-cave paint job may want to run the swatches by a woman.

Why? She can tell the difference between them better than you.

So say researchers at the City University of New York Brooklyn College, where a new study finds that women are better than men at discerning subtle distinctions in color.

Color hues

The study determined that women are better at registering variants in color than men.

On the other hand, man have the edge when it comes to fine details and moving objects.

The findings are reported in “Sex and vision II: color appearance of monochromatic lights” in the open-access journal Biology of Sex Differences.

Color Vision Test

The research, led by Professor Israel Abramov, compared the vision of males and females over 16 years old. Participants had normal color vision and 20/20 sight (or the equivalent when corrected by glasses or contact lenses), according to a journal release describing the research.

However, when the participants were required to describe colors shown to them across the visual spectrum, it became obvious that the color vision of men was shifted. That means they required a slightly longer wavelength to experience the same hue as the women, according to the study.

The men also had a broader range in the spectrum's center, where they were less able to discriminate between colors, the study said.

Moving Image Test

Guys gained the advantage in another area, however: identification of rapidly moving stimuli.

In this study, an image of light and dark bars was used to measure contrast-sensitivity functions of vision. The bars were either horizontal or vertical, and the study participants had to choose which one they saw.


Psychonaught / Wikimedia Commons

During the study, men generally required a slightly longer wavelength to experience the same hue as the women.

In each image, when the light and dark bars were alternated, the image appeared to flicker, the study said.

The researchers varied how rapidly the bars alternated and how close together they were. At moderate rates, observers lost sensitivity for close-together bars and gained sensitivity when the bars were farther apart, the team found.

When the image changed more quickly, both sexes were less able to resolve the images over all bar widths. Overall, however, men were better than women at detecting faster-changing, close-together images, the study found.

Women: Better at Hearing, Smelling

Vision is just the latest basic sensory function in which women may have an advantage, according to the researchers.

“As with other senses, such as hearing and the olfactory system, there are marked sex differences in vision between men and women," said Abramov.

“Women have better hearing sensitivity than males,” the study said.

Moreover, a recent large review of literature concluded that in most cases, females had better sensitivity, categorized and discriminated odors better than males, the researchers noted in the study.

Tale of the Genes

In the case of vision, researchers are looking to the brain, which has high concentrations of male sex hormone (androgen) receptors throughout cerebral cortex, especially in the visual cortex, which is responsible for processing images.

Androgens are also responsible for controlling the development of neurons in the visual cortex during embryogenesis, meaning that males have 25 percent more of these neurons than females.

Abramov said elements of vision measured are determined by inputs from specific sets of thalamic neurons into the primary visual cortex.

“We suggest that, since these neurons are guided by the cortex during embryogenesis, that testosterone plays a major role, somehow leading to different connectivity between males and females,” said Abramov.

The researcher isn't ready to wade into the testosterone issue, however, saying only: “The evolutionary driving force between these differences is less clear.”


Tagged categories: Color; Color selection; Color trends; Contractors; Design; Designers; Painters; Research

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (3/18/2013, 10:18 AM)

Discerning differences between similar colors is a skill which can be trained, and improves with experience. I wouldn't jump immediately to hormones until societal explanations are explored. For example, in standard Western society, girls and women are generally expected to and have more experience in discerning color differences, while men and boys are actively derided for doing so. See the "gay fashion designer" stereotype for a well-known example.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (3/19/2013, 11:12 AM)

Good point, Tom. It may also have to due with our progression through a hunter-gatherer society. Males (traditionally the hunters) would have needed the fast detection and identification abilities for chasing game while females (traditionally the gatherers) weould have needed better color and smell to identify "good" foods and the hearing to hear predators or shouts of alarm while they gathered. Over centuries, a little bit of societal genetics may have crept in....best hunters and best gathers survived better and had more kids, re-enforcing these qualities.

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