PinkSquee EvPsych Asshattery du jour

[image yoinked from jZepp]

Would someone just erase gender-evpsychs from the planet, please? This Beeb-reported British “study” published in Current Biology has declared that women really do prefer pink – it’s in their genes.

Apparently by including Chinese volunteers as well as Brits in the colour-preference study, the researchers believe they have eliminated socialisation and cultural bias as factors. The subjects were aged 20-26, mostly white Brits, and a few mainland Han Chinese who had immigrated to the UK in the past 0.5-3 years. There is no further information on the background or upbringing of either group; it seems not to have occurred to the researchers that Chinese people who move to the UK have had perhaps a smidgen of Western influence in their childhood or young adult years.

A graph from the paper:

The researchers cheerfullyforcefully attribute the Chinese preference for red shades to red being considered “good luck” in Chinese culture. But they’re steadfastedly determined to attribute at least some female pink preference to women’s DNA-given roles as sex and food providers. The Beeb quotes Dr Hurlbert:

“Evolution may have driven females to prefer reddish colours – reddish fruits, healthy, reddish faces.

Hurlbert, who clearly hoed into the NumptyBix the morning she wrote her precious paper, scurries off into this flight of fancy:

The hunter- gatherer theory proposes that female brains should be specialized for gathering-related tasks and is supported by studies of visual spatial abilities. Trichromacy and the L”“M opponent channel are “modern’ adaptations in primate evolution thought to have evolved to facilitate the identification of ripe, yellow fruit or edible red leaves embedded in green foliage. It is therefore plausible that, in specializing for gathering, the female brain honed the trichromatic adaptations, and these underpin the female preference for objects “redder’ than the background. As a gatherer, the female would also need to be more aware of color information than the hunter. This requirement would emerge as greater certainty and more stability in female color preference, which we find. An alternative explanation for the evolution of trichromacy is the need to discriminate subtle changes in skin color due to emotional states and social-sexual signals; again, females may have honed these adaptations for their roles as care-givers and “empathizers’.

As further support for the “female brain’ hypotheses, we find that observers’ femininity scores on the Bem Sex Role inventory correlate significantly with LM cone-contrast component weights for all subjects (rho = 0.333; p 0.002), but not with S cone-contrast weights, for the tested subgroup of 90 subjects.

Do I want to know what the “Bern Sex Role Inventory” is? Hit one gets me an okCupid test, on which I “scored 83 masculinity and 40 femininity!” Another googlehit gets me this page: according to the BSRI, “feminine” women rate themselves as high on characteristics like yielding, cheerful, shy, affectionate, sympathetic, secretive, inefficient, and unsystematic; and low on characteristics like self-reliant, defends own beliefs, forceful, athletic, assertive, strong personality, and analytical.

Has it occurred to anyone, for a second, that when women who rate themselves as scoring highly on traditional feminine characteristics express a preference for pink, that this might not be biologically programmed?

And if I’m programmed to squeee at the sight of pink because of my fruit-gathering function, why are pomegranates and dragonfruits the only pink fruits I can think of?


Edited to add (23 Aug 07): Looking further at the assertion of the longevity of pinkgirliness, a snippet from the paper:

Furthermore, despite abundant evidence for sex differences in other visual domains, and specifically in other tasks of color perception [4,5], there is no conclusive evidence for the existence of sex differences in color preference. This fact is perhaps surprising, given the prevalence and longevity of the notion that little girls differ from boys in preferring ‘pink’ [6].

[6], the footnote, refers to this paper: “An Evolutionary Perspective of Sex-Typed Toy Preferences: Pink, Blue, and the Brain”. So I went to the “source”. It has no primary research at all on a pink colour preference. Instead, it contains two more free-floating assertions which the Hurlbert paper has accepted wholesale and evidence-free:

Compared to boys, girls are also more likely to use a greater number of colors and to prefer warmer colors (i.e., pink and red) to cooler colors (i.e., blue and green; Minamoto, 1985).

Whereas discrimination of red wavelengths appears to facilitate identification of plant food, a preference for red or pink appears to have an advantage for successful female reproduction. In research on nonhuman primates (Higley, Hopkins, Hirsch, Marra, & Suomi, 1987), a fe- male preference for “reddish-pink” compared to yellow or green is thought to exist because infant faces compared to adult faces are reddish-pink, and red or pink may signal approach behaviors that enhance infant survival. In addition, women and men appear able to use the spectral properties of the human face for gender discrimination (males being more red; females being more green; Tarr, Kersten, Cheng, & Rossion, 2001), suggesting that a female preference for red may also have promoted recognition and approach to males. Thus, the social role of early females (i.e., foraging for plant food and caretaking of infants) may have evolved in girls compared to boys a greater specialization for color processing and a greater preference for objects with a pink or reddish color.

So I did a bit more source-hunting.

– The Higley paper was purely on rhesus monkeys.

– The Minamoto paper referenced as proving that girls have always preferred pink doesn’t seem to exist on Medline or the Web. There is a different paper on which Minamoto was a third author:“Sex differences in children’s free drawings: a study on girls with congenital adrenal hyperplasia.” This is not a historical study, it’s a study finding that girls with an intersex condition had more “masculine” drawings than non-intersex girls.

– And here’s the Tarr paper: “It’s Pat! Sexing faces using only red and green”. Apparently women’s faces are greener than men’s.

….. absolutely none of which shows “the prevalence and longevity of the notion that little girls differ from boys in preferring ‘pink'”, despite being used as a source for this statement by Hurlbert.

Bad scientist, bad.

Categories: gender & feminism, Science

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13 replies

  1. Yeah, this was reported at El Reg, too. The comments there (at least the first dozen or so – I haven’t checked back) were uniform in their criticism of the study. Some made the valid point that less than a hundred years ago the gender colour preferences were reversed.
    I’m finding it hard to comprehend how it got past peer review.

  2. It always pains me that the people conducting these studies have no sense of history. Pre-World War 1, pink was a boy’s colour and blue was for girls. Red being a manly colour, the colour of blood and lust and anger and passion, and pink a suitable derivative thereof for younger boys. Blue being a passive, delicate, demure colour suitable for girls – “Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes”, depictions of the Virgin Mary have her nearly always in a blue robe, and so on.
    Which is not to say girls never wore red or pink nor boys blues. Just that the general popularity was reversed from today.

  3. Watermelon is pink too, and I quite like it. But the study is hooey, and they really should get an historian or two to glance at research proposals before they get going.

  4. I think the worst part of the study is the leap from tabling the results to speculating on what caused them, without any acknowledgement that the explanations offered fall waaaay outside the scope of what could be reasonably deduced from the data returned.
    Reasoning from A straight to F: Ev Psych’s favourite passtime.

  5. @orlando:
    You are spot on. For those who don’t have access to the full article, this is at the end of the paper

    Our results demonstrate robust sex differences in color preference, which are consistent with the evolution of sex-specific behavioral uses of trichromacy.

    That is wrong on so many levels. Their results demonstrate only that they can’t design an experiment and have no grasp of logic. They are far from robust data. Using the word ‘evolution’ implies a selective pressure (and their proposed mechanisms are stupidly weak) on a genetic difference between the two groups.
    Shit, this pisses me off. I work my fucking arse off to get good, solid data that push back the boundaries of ignorance by an infinitesimal amount and then have to do it all again to satisfy the review process, and these arcing fussholes get crap like this published.
    ‘G’ and indeed ‘rrr’.

  6. It might also be of use if the happy chaps had looked at physiological & psychological responses to colour tests, & methodologies for running studies that show some grasp of research process & a modicum of something called “literature review”.

  7. Thanks for covering this – it made me splutter incoherently.
    Ahistorical numpty arsehats.

  8. And isn’t the Daily Mail just a special little rag?
    They go off on this tangent:

    Most studies suggest that overall IQ levels between the sexes are pretty much the same – most, but not all.
    In 1999, a study by controversial psychologist Richard Lynn, of the University of Ulster, concluded that men have, on average, IQs about four points higher than females – a finding that caused some furore (his conclusion that women have better short-term memories than men caused predictably little outrage).
    But what can be agreed on is that there are differences between the sexes in the type of intelligence shown by men and women.
    There are, for example, far more men than women at the top echelons of mathematics and engineering, whereas women are better represented in the arts and in some sciences such as biology.
    There are few women who play chess to the highest level, and males get more first-class degrees at university (and more thirds).
    There are other differences, too: women, it seems, are more sensitive to pain than men, or at least respond to pain in a more emotional way.

  9. [Hurlbert]: “Evolution may have driven females to prefer reddish colours – reddish fruits, healthy, reddish faces.”

    Oh, FFS. It didn’t even hit me on the first pass how fucking racist this is.

  10. I missed that too. That privilege thing again.

  11. Healthy, reddish faces! Ruddy-cheeked faces enlivened by a jolly good pillow-fight in the dorm after scoffing second goes of Mrs McGoot’s scones before Lights Out…

  12. I’m kicking myself. On, Littleshim makes a point that should have been obvious, about the prevailing assumption that white male = default, neutral. (The initial quote-within-quote is from A.S.)

    “One good explanation of these data would be the one mentioned in the passage from the paper that Ben cites in #22: that there is a general preference for blue that is shifted towards reddish hues for women. This would be the universal aspect of the data, and hence the one for which one would like to have an adaptationist explanation.
    The fact that the Chinese as a whole prefer more reddish hues as well as the fact that the preference for reddish hues seems to hone in on pinkish colors for English women would seem to be a culture-specific aspect, to be explained by cultural influences.”
    But why should the Chinese preference be the ‘culture specific aspect’? How very ethnocentric. In fact, from the descriptions above (having not been able to read the article) I’d be tempted to suggest quite the opposite: a ‘general preference for red/pink’ (prevalent across gender and culture boundaries), but with a culture-specific shift toward blues in Western men.

    I have to constantly work to hold these sorts of assumptions up and keep them visible. Because they subside, and slip from my fingers, and keep their twisted hold on my ideas and interpretations.


  1. Passive backlash. at Hoyden About Town
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