MONDAY, Aug. 20, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- As the mother of a newborn baby girl, Dr. Anya C. Hurlbert wondered why all the products aimed at her daughter tended to have a pinkish tint.
As a professor of visual neuroscience at Newcastle University in England, Hurlbert was able to create a scientifically sound study to determine whether girls really do prefer pink. The answer, as outlined in a report in the Aug. 21 issue of the journal Current Biology,, is "yes." Females do have a preference for pinkish colors that males don't.
"We find very clear differences between the males and females we have tested," Hurlbert said. "We haven't yet found any exceptions."
In more formal terms, females in the study showed a preference for the reddish side of the red-green axis of colors, while males didn't. There was no gender difference in preferences on the blue-yellow axis, with everyone tipping toward blue. The study included 208 participants, ranging in age from 20 to 26.
That bluish preference seems natural, Hurlbert said -- blue skies and all that. The female tilt toward pink, she speculated, arose from evolutionary influences millions of years ago. "Females were the ones who gathered red fruit against a green background," she said. "Red is healthy in faces and in fruits."
Cultural influences may have accentuated this natural female preference, she said.
The study Hurlbert did asked several hundred young men and women to make quick decisions on which color they preferred as pairs of colors flashed on a screen in front of them. "We did about a thousand different pairs," she noted.
Some Chinese people were included in the study along with native Britons, to get evidence that the results were true in more than one ethnic group.
While there has been speculation about a possible female preference for pink, "there has been very little hard evidence for sex differences," Hurlbert said. "We now have provided pretty robust and reliable evidence."
Kathy Mullen, a professor of ophthalmology at McGill University in Montreal, said, "I wouldn't be surprised at all that there is a gender difference. That's not to say that it's genetic. It might be a cultural thing."
Color preferences are also known to change with age, Mullen said.
The "nature-versus-nurture" controversy about favorite colors can be tested by studying infants, Hurlbert said. There are plans to use a modified version of the color-choice test in young babies at her institution, she said.
For more on how people see colors, visit the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.