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Men and Women Really Do See Things Different

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Females are better at discriminating among colors, researchers say, while males excel at tracking fast-moving objects and discerning detail from a distanceevolutionary adaptations possibly linked to our hunter-gatherer past.

The study, led by Brooklyn College psychology professor Israel Abramov, put young adults with normal vision through a battery of tests.

In color experiments the men and women tended to ascribe different shades to the same objects. The researchers think they know why.

"Across most of the visible spectrum males require a slightly longer wavelength than do females in order to experience the same hue," the team concludes in the latest issue of the journal Biology of Sex Differences.

Since longer wavelengths are associated with "warmer" colors, an orange, for example, may appear redder to a man than to a woman. Likewise, the grass is almost always greener to women than to men, to whom verdant objects appear a bit yellower.

(Also see "Men's Offices Have More Bacteria, Study Finds.")

The study also found that men are less adept at distinguishing among shades in the center of the color spectrum: blues, greens, and yellows.

Where the men shone was in detecting quick-changing details from afar, particularly by better tracking the thinner, faster-flashing bars within a bank of blinking lights.

The team puts this advantage down to neuron development in the visual cortex, which is boosted by masculine hormones. Since males are flush with testosterone, in particular, they're born with 25 percent more neurons in this brain region than females, the team noted.

(Related: "Why Deaf Have Enhanced Vision.")

Evolution at Work?

The vision findings support the so-called hunter-gatherer hypothesis, which argues that the sexes evolved distinct psychological abilities to fit their prehistoric roles, the team says. (See "Sex-Based Roles Gave Modern Humans an Edge, Study Says.")

Noting that men in the study showed "significantly greater sensitivity for fine detail and for rapidly moving stimuli," the researchers write that their hunter forebears "would have to detect possible predators or prey from afar and also identify and categorize these objects more easily."

(See "Video Games Improve Vision, Study Says.")

Meanwhile, the vision of female "gatherers" may have become better adapted recognizing close-at-hand, static objects such as wild berries.

John Barbur, professor of optics and visual science at City University London, noted that females are often "worse off in terms of absolute chromatic sensitivity than males."

But when it comes to noticing subtle differences among shades of a color, women do tend to come out on top, as they did in Abramov's experiments, said Barbur, who wasn't part of the new study.

"If you're not dealing with the absolute sensitivity for color detection but the way in which colors are judged—such as the ability to describe a color, or what that color means, and so on," he said, "I'd say that females are definitely much better than males."

A poster on the site, linked above, does make a good point when saying: "This study needs to be replicated across cultures before any definitive conclusion can be reached. I think you're really jumping the gun with your evolutionary ideas." -Donald S

But still, I find these results rather interesting since there is a whole history of debates about colors. And also, we're brought up by society to think that women always know more about colors. I remember a lot of tv shows where the man acts frustrated because his wife says something is magenta instead of red or pink.

Does it have a scientific basis?

Can the men and women here relate to the findings of this study?

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I don't understand how this can be, since there are more pink shirts in the men's department at Wal-Mart than than the women's department!


But pink .. or magenta?

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I don't understand how this can be, since there are more pink shirts in the men's department at Wal-Mart than than the women's department!

It's not pink. It's salmon. A woman told me that.

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I would have made a great hunter.


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