August 26, 2007


Out of the blue and in the pink (Ben Goldacre, 8/25/07, The Guardian)

I love evolutionary psychologists, because the ideas, like "girls prefer pink because they need to be better at hunting berries" are so much fun. Sure there are problems, like, we don't know a lot about life in the pleistocene period through which humans evolved; their claims sound a bit like "just so" stories, relying on their own internal, circular logic; the evidence for genetic influence on behaviour, emotion, and cognition, is coarse; they only pick the behaviours which they think they can explain while leaving the rest; and they get in trouble as soon as they go beyond examining broad categories of human behaviours across societies and cultures, becoming crassly ethnocentric. But that doesn't stop me enjoying their ideas.

This week every single newspaper in the world lapped up the story that scientists have cracked the pink problem. "At last, science discovers why blue is for boys but girls really do prefer pink," said the Times. And so on.

The study took 208 people in their 20s and asked them to choose their favourite colours between two options, repeatedly, and then graphed their overall preferences. It found overlapping curves, with a significant tendency for men to prefer blue, and female subjects showing a preference for redder, pinker tones. This, the authors speculated (to international excitement and approval) may be because men go out hunting, but women need to be good at interpreting flushed emotional faces, and identifying berries whilst out gathering.

Now there are some serious problems here. Firstly, the test wasn't measuring discriminative ability, just preference. I am yet to be given evidence that my girlfriend has the upper hand in discriminating shades of red as we gambol foraging for the fruits of the forest (which we do).

But is colour preference cultural or genetic?

The funniest thing about the study is that it contradicts everything Darwinists claim about coloration for mating purposes. After all, if men preferred blue and women pink, the Marines would wear pink and bikinis would be blue in order to attract the opposite sex.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 26, 2007 7:32 AM

Blue bikinis look o.k.

Posted by: Twn at August 26, 2007 10:42 AM

This kind of speculation about "Darwinism" boots little. We could find an "evolutionary" explanation for pink, blue or chartreuse.

Now let us ponder how a culture bearing certain traits and ways of thinking and acting surpasses while another goes under, and we have news we can use.

Posted by: Lou Gots at August 26, 2007 11:41 AM

Ach, more Straw Man arguments. I've read a number of evolutionary psychologists, and the only thing about coloration regarding human mating that I recall had to do with blond hair. (Blond hair tends to get darker with age, so it's a marker for youth, setting aside the issue of dye jobs.) This pink/blue study is nonsense, but that doesn't prove the whole field is nonsense.

Posted by: PapayaSF at August 26, 2007 1:01 PM

My blond hair began to darken when I was around 7 years old and now, 40 years later is turning gray and thinning out. what sort of evolutionary statement does that make? NONE, I imagine!

Posted by: Dave W at August 26, 2007 1:34 PM

PapayaSF, the fact that the field did not call the pink/blue study nonsense is a leading sign that most of the field is nonsense. The just so stories, the frauds, and the lack of application, point to a wrong turn....

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at August 26, 2007 2:01 PM

I'll leave it to someone else to find the references, but blue/pink was an late 19th/early 20th century invention, and originally pink was for boys. (Remember, bright colors in fabrics are also a recent, industrial invention.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at August 26, 2007 3:03 PM

The field produces only nonsense.

Posted by: oj at August 26, 2007 4:06 PM

I'm a man and I kinda like pink, cuz every time I see a pink light it means I can j-u-s-t make it thru the intersection.

Posted by: ras at August 26, 2007 4:12 PM

I don't know that I would go that far OJ. I'm sure that like Alchemy, there will be some gold about the dross.....

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at August 26, 2007 4:37 PM

Robert, I honestly don't know if "the field" called the study nonsense. I'm sure many in the field would, but it's hard to tell anything for sure from mainstream media accounts of science. Relying on them for accuracy in that field is like relying on them for accurate info on military matters.

Posted by: PapayaSF at August 26, 2007 8:07 PM

Evolutionary biology always boils down to excusing bad behavior.

Posted by: Buttercup at August 26, 2007 8:29 PM

Funny thing is that 75 years ago, in the US, pink was for boys and blue was for girls. Reasoning was that pink was diluted red and red was a more masculine color.

"Despite being widely considered the color of females, before the 1930s, pink was considered to be a color for boys in America. Because pink is a watered down version of red, it was considered a color of power and strength, as red is still today. Blue was for girls " NO CITATION PROVIDED

Funny how these "hard wired" evolutionary truths change with the wind.

Posted by: Scott at August 27, 2007 7:25 AM