This blog chronicles my life as I try to balance healthy lifestyle habits with my husband's penchant for pizza rolls and my daughter's desire to watch iCarly 8 hours a day. It contains a mostly humorous, kind, and somewhat spiritual look at everyday life and the people who live it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How men and women see color (hint: very differently!)

Ahhh, another home improvement project with Steve and Beth.  How our marriage has ever survived these projects I don't know because there could not be two people with more different views on how to plan, organize, and execute a project.  Add to our usual differences the fact that we see and interpret color very differently and you can imagine how challenging painting the exterior of our house has become.

I like to call this: project negotiations...

Steve: I see our house with a really dark green body, off-white trim, and navy blue shutters.
Beth: I see our house with a light olive green body, bright white trim, and dark red shutters.

The fact is that men and women may really see color differently.  About 50% of women are tetrachromatic which means they have four types of cone receptors instead of three.  Cone receptors are cells located in the retina that are responsible for our both our vision of color and the detail in which we see it.  Just having more or less cone receptors isn't the whole story.  It turns out that even with people with the same number of cone receptors the interpretation of color can vary greatly.  Human beings have a color experience which means that we relate to color as it relates to experiences in the world because our brain does an automatic color correction so things appear "right" to us despite wearing sunglasses, colored lenses, or colored lighting.   So my brain interprets color differently from Steve's brain.  (Clearly my brain's interpretation is the correct interpretation therefore my color choices are superior, right?)

It's more than just a physical difference.  Men and women perceive colors different as part of our different gender experiences.   If we go back to our original hunter/gatherer roots women evolved to prefer colors on the red spectrum as berries, fruits, flowering plants, and other necessary foods come in that color.  Also, as the primary caretaker of children since time began, women had to perceive variations of red as an indication of fever or rash in our children.  Being attune to the red spectrum may have been necessary to save a child's life.  Men evolved to look for colors on the blue spectrum: blue sky indicating good weather necessary for hunting, blue water indicating good watering hole where animals may be found.  Purple clouds indicating a storm coming.  Movement in the shadows indicating attack by an enemy or animal.  Seeing variation in the blue spectrum may have meant life or death to the man his tribe. 

Well, Steve and I are already ahead of our biology: we both want a green house, it's the depth of color that has us at odds.  I always prefer light colors and Steve always prefers darker colors.   This doesn't appear to be biological as much as personality preference. 

There is one big factor that must be considered that is probably more important than biology, personality, evolution, or societal influence:   I am the one who is actually doing the painting!

Light olive green, welcome to the neighborhood!


karen@fitnessjourney said...

Good luck with the painting. I'm impressed that your husband has an opinion about color. If it were up to my husband, nothing would ever change color!

BTW, feel free to ask questions in the comments section of my blog. I'll pass along your question regarding yoga.

Anonymous said...

Amen, Sister!!

Chellie said...

Oh,Sean and I have frequently misunderstood each other simply because we have different names for colors. He uses the word "violet" to describe what I call "maroon." So, when he says, "violet," I think he means purple! I have picked the "wrong" shirt, tie, etc. many times because of this!

Beth said...

You know what Karen, you're right. Instead of yammering on about how we disagree on color I should be praising Steve for taking an interest in our little (monstrous) project and actually weighing in with an opinion! Good perspective!

Beth said...

Anonymous, I need to come clean with you before you read it in a future post: I completely caved in on the color selection and our house (well at least the garage) is being painted dark olive green. So much for woman power, hearing me roar, and standing up for my color beliefs!

On the upside, the darker green did look better (which I will never even under pain of death admit to Steve, he just thinks he wore me down :)

Beth said...

Chellie I am so happy to hear that Sean does that because I have often wondered what weird sort of education Steve had when he calls a color that is clearly brown "khaki". What? Khaki? Khakis are pants! He also calls every kind of pants "jeans" and all women's shirts "blouses" even when they are T-shirts. Sometimes I have absolutely no idea what he is talking about (but rather than ask for clarification I like to just nod and smile vaguely).