Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Like Pink? Scientists say you do.

Once again, pop science is out looking to prove even the most trivial of gender stereotypes. This time, *science* has proven that women are genetically predisposed to like pink more than boys do. That's right, pink - the color that was considered a "boy's color" even into the 20th century when mothers were advised:
"...the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is pertier for the girl." [Ladies Home Journal, June, 1918]

There must be a genetic explanation for the color pink being considered feminine over the last century, no? Surely every decade's whims have been millions of years in the making.

So, the experiment worked like this: European adults (who had spent a lifetime being taught that pink was feminine) were shown pairs color swatches and asked to pick a favorite as quickly as possible. To make things fair,
The test included a small group of Chinese people among the other 171 British Caucasian study participants to establish whether gender differences in colour preference depend more on biology or culture. According to Professor Hurlbert, the results among the Chinese participants were similar, strengthening the idea that the gender differences might be biological.
A small number? One other ethnic group? 171 Brits to determine the whole world's genetic evolution? But, perhaps I am too harsh - as we all know, the Chinese and British cultures have no contact that might undermine the assumption that any similarities must be genetic rather than cultural. Hello Kitty, I hear, hates pink and the Chinese have nothing to do with the pink and blue toys marketed to British girls and boys. So what conclusions should be drawn from such rigorous experimentation? As Professor Anya Hurlbert, Professor of Visual Neuroscience at Newcastle University, explains it: "The explanation might date back to humans' hunter-gatherer days, when women were the primary gatherers and would have benefited from an ability to home in on ripe, red fruits. Culture may exploit and compound this natural female preference..." Oh, those savvy homo habilis home makers. You probably use those same red-finding skills in the supermarket today! Well, that settles it. We can, in fact, use preferences formed by a very small, very homogeneous group to explain our genetic gender differences and there will always be someone with the right letters behind their name who is willing to back up even the stupidest stereotype.

So what annoys me here? Granted, my first reaction was to laugh. But - Reuters and this Newcastle University are presenting the general public with the idea that this is sound scientific thinking. Yes, you might say, but what sort of journal would publish a study that makes such sweeping conclusions based on such a small, homogeneous sampling and ignores contrary historical evidence? Well, this proof of a "robust, cross-cultural sex difference in color preference" was first brought to you by the reputable-sounding journal Current Biology.


MarkH said...

Me likey.

habladora said...

Sweet - a famous friend link. Go see what scientists are saying about us on Mark H's Denialism blog.