In this post, I’m going to dive into how men and women are wired differently when it comes to judging color.

If you’ve ever found yourself in the paint store with the opposite sex debating on whether a certain color is “laguna blue” or a lighter “turquoise,” there is actually a physiological explanation for that which I will be diving into.

Importance of judging color

As photographers and artists, our ability to judge and implement color is very important to the overall composition of our photograph.

Colors can evoke certain emotions such as happiness, sadness and even warmth or coldness. When it comes time to color grade your photograph for a particular color harmony, it is important that your audience see the same colors you intended for your composition.

You can also use color to emphasize and lead your viewer’s eyes to a particular point within your image. Allowing you to have control over the overall composition of your photograph.

With color playing such an important role within our photographs, our ability to judge color also comes into play.

Men and women have been shown to judge and recognize color differently with women being able to see more colors than men. But why is this so?

Does that mean men and women color grade their photos differently? Are men at a disadvantage when it comes to accurately color grading their photographs? Let’s dive into the research.

Do females see more color?

Research has shown that women actually have a larger color vocabulary than their male counterparts. Think of the words “periwinkle” and “blue macaw.”

But does having a larger color vocabulary translate into females being able to see more color?

Israel Abramov, a behavioral neuroscientist at CUNY’s Brooklyn College, dove into finding answers to this question. He was curious about how men and women’s different “wiring” in the brain may lead to a different perception of color.

Source: kathreynn (DeviantArt)

When visualizing color, it can be broken down into three categories: Hue, saturation and luminance. Hue deals with the actual color, saturation deals with the intensity of the color and luminance deals with how bright the color is.

In Abramov’s study, he had men and women break down the hue of each color and assign a percentage to the categories red, yellow, green and blue.

The results from the test showed that women were “more adept at distinguishing between subtle gradations than the men.”

Women were able to better distinguish the tiny differences between colors that may look identical to males. Abramov found that men required slightly longer wavelengths of light in order to see the same hues of women. For example, hues identified as orange by women were seen as more of a yellow by men.

The results Abramov found suggested that there are wiring differences in visual areas of the brain that contribute to the slight difference in perception of color between men and women.

This study does not differ from many of the others that have found other sensory differences in the realms of hearing, smell and taste — where women often perform better than men in terms of distinguishing slight differences.

It has been found that hormone levels may be the basis for these sex differences.

“Abramov believes that testosterone expression in early development plays a major role in these differences between males and females.” Testosterone levels promote different organization of neurons in the visual cortex in men and women.

Since men have more testosterone receptors than women in the visual region of the cerebral cortex, it would make sense that the different number of receptors could result in visual perception differences.

Why do men and women actually judge and perceive color differently?

Further research needs to be done on this topic for a conclusive reason, however, Abramov believes one potential explanation can be related to men and women’s roles during the period of early nomadic tribes when men were the hunters and women were the gatherers.

As hunters, men had to be better at distinguishing predators from prey from afar. On the other hand, women might have developed better close range vision from the act of foraging and gathering.

Although further research needs to be done for a conclusive reason, men and women do experience visual differences which could also have an impact on how they perform at tasks such as art and sports.

How color perception impacts photography

In terms of photography, you may be wondering whether that means women are better when it comes to color grading and understanding all of the colors in their photograph. That is not the case.

When editing photos in your preferred photo editing software, it is calibrated within the software to provide and tell you which color is which. Although a male may perceive a certain shade of blue to be slightly different from a female, within the photo editing software, the blue you edit is the one directly influenced by your photo editing software.

The only worry is making sure the blue you see due to your monitor settings, is the blue everyone else will see on their computers or phones.

With so many factors into play on how colors are perceived, what is the best option to ensure you are editing for true colors within your photograph?

That’s where a monitor calibration tool and other capture and print calibration tools can be used. We may not be able to change how we perceive colors physiologically, but at least we can have control over color as much as we can with calibration.