Sunday, September 09, 2012

Seeing Things Differently

Last month, in a post titled Husbandly Duties, I talked about the sheer joy* of accompanying my Very Best Beloved on her clothes-shopping expeditions. As all married men, and those in significant relationships, know, this is one of the duties that's part of the small print in your contract. And ... as we all also know ... men and women don't see things quite the same way in a lot of areas, which adds to the joy of shopping.

But, it turns out, there's apparently a sound scientific and evolutionary reason for all that.

My friend Ed, via his Facebook page, pointed me to this fascinating article from National Geographic Daily News: Men and Women Really Do See Things Differently. According to the article, the results of experiments conducted by researchers at Brooklyn College reveal that women are better at discriminating among colors, while men are better at tracking fast-moving objects and discerning detail from a distance. The results seem to indicate that these traits are evolutionary adaptations which may have grown out of our distant pasts as hunters (mostly men) and gatherers (mostly women).

Men's ability to see things at a distance and track moving objects may be related to their higher percentage of testosterone, which contributes to the development of neurons in the visual cortex, which in turn boosts visual acuity. This would, of course, provide an evolutionary advantage conducive to spotting prey at a distance, picking it out of a natural background, and tracking it for the kill.

Women, on the other hand, may have adapted better to the discrimination of colors at closer ranges, which would help them distinguish, for example, ripe from unripe fruits or variations in colors which could signal spoiled or poisonous plants. A professor of optics and visual science at City University London who was quoted in the article noted that women are often deficient in terms of absolute color sensitivity as compared to men, but that they are better at noticing subtle differences among shades of colors. He said that, "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, I'd say that females are definitely much better than males."

Since most of us are no longer hunters and gatherers, these evolutionary adaptations express themselves in other ways. My former co-worker Gwen used to be driven to apoplexy when we'd compliment her on a nice pink blouse that she insisted wasn't pink, but coral; and most women seem instinctively to know that ecru and aubergine are clearly not the same as dirty white or purple.

So, ladies, give us a break when you drag us out to go shopping with you. If we think it's pink, smile and nod and content yourself with knowing in your heart that it's really coral or fuchsia** or rose or salmon. We'll pick the tiger out of the tall grass at a distance and protect you from him ... you dress for the celebration in the color you think is best.

Have a good day, even if you have to look at the world through salmon-colored glasses.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* I'm glad I'm typing this ... it's hard to talk with my tongue stuck so far into my cheek.

** And whoever decided to call it "fuchsia" obviously never considered the linguistic implications of various pronunciations.


Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Several years ago, some psych researchers at Auburn reported that men use fewer, more basic colors, as descriptors. Color names are not big with guys.

eViL pOp TaRt said...

So basically the differences involve cognitive categories, and not simple sensory differences? That makes sense.

Mike said...

Some women can see in four colors, not three. Besides red, green, and blue rods they have blue/green rods in their eyes.

Big Sky Heidi said...

I wonder if women have more cones around the fovea?

Women are less likely to get red-green colorblindness.