MIDWAY : Pink for a girl

Women’s fondness for the colour pink is so deeply embedded that it may have been shaped by evolutionary history, according to a recent study. Rather than marking a girlie approach to home decoration or cake-icing, the trait’s roots are more likely to lie in the struggle to find food in hunter-gatherer days, the researchers suggested.

Prehistoric women who zeroed in on red-coloured fruit would have been the star equivalents of male animal-slayers, according to two British neuroscientists, who have found a consistent liking for pink in surveys of women volunteers. Although blue was by far the most popular “simple’’ colour among men and women, the study showed a striking difference in the sexes when follow-up experiments tested reactions to blends.

“We expected to find gender differences, but we were surprised at how robust they were,” said Anya Hurlbert, professor of visual neuroscience at Newcastle University. “They appear to give biological and not simply cultural substance to the old saying: pink for a girl and blue for a boy.” Using rapid reactions to flash cards, the survey, published in Current Biology, is the first to show that human colour preference can be broken down into two spectra: red-greenness and blue-yellowness. While men plumped for a wide variety of favourite tones across both, women overwhelmingly went for the red end of the red-green axis.

“This shifts their colour preference slightly away from blue towards red, which tends to make pinks — and sometimes lilacs — women’s real favourites,” said Prof Hurlbert, who carried out the study with research neuroscientist Yazhu Ling. “The differences were so substantial that seasoned researchers using the data are usually able to predict the sex of a participant by checking their favourite colour.” The strategy may be just the latest variant of the survival of the fittest methods used by fruit-hunting matriarchs. “It is speculative, but women were the primary gatherers and would certainly have benefited from an ability to home in on ripe, red fruits,” said Prof Hurlbert. The same argument could apply to blue. “A clear blue sky signalled good weather,” she said. “Clear blue also signals a good water source.”