Men and Women Really Do See Things Differently

By Joe Giacobello

We’ve all noticed that men and women seem to think differently, but recent research suggests that they actually see things differently — particularly when it comes to colors. It seems that women are better at distinguishing among subtle color differences, while men have a greater sensitivity to fine detail and rapidly moving, distant objects.

Male vs. Female Brain

Scientists say that there are high concentrations of androgen — the male sex hormone receptors — in the visual cortex of the brain, which is responsible for processing images. Androgen is responsible for controlling development of neurons in the visual cortex during embryo formation. Men have 25% more neurons in this area than females. At the same time, however, linguistic research has shown that women tend to have a larger vocabulary than men for describing colors. So what does this all mean?

Detecting Subtle Color Differences

Israel Abramov and his research team at CUNY’s Brooklyn College conducted a series of visual tests on men and women at both the high school and college levels. They tested and compared their color vision by projecting colors onto frosted glass or beaming them directly into the subjects’ eyes. When asked to describe colors displayed across the visual spectrum, the women were better able to distinguish among subtle differences in the middle of the color spectrum. They also detected tiny differences between yellows that looked the same to men. Additionally, the men required a slightly longer wavelength to experience the same hue as the women.


Photo Credit: Laitr Keiows via Wikimedia Commons

Degrees of Contrast

The subjects were also shown light and dark bars of different widths and degrees of contrast, flickering on a computer screen, an effect similar to viewing a car moving in the distance. The men were better able to see the bars, and their advantage increased as the bars became narrower and less distinct. They also had an easier time resolving more rapidly changing images that were closer together than the women.

Evolutionary Adaptation

A possible, but highly speculative explanation for why the sexes see differently is for evolutionary advantages. In hunter-gatherer societies, the males needed to see predators or prey in the distance while women had to detect subtle color differences while scouring for edible plants.

Classroom Discussion

  • How is our ability to distinguish colors important to our survival, ability to do our jobs or in everyday life?
  • What differences have you observed, in the way that males and females think?