[ExI] Colours

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Sat May 4 22:02:19 UTC 2013

On 04/05/2013 15:31, spike wrote:
> Note the original meaning of the term gay is colorful and cheerful.  
> Regarding why gay men should be able to distinguish more colors, I 
> will be absolutely damned, which I suppose would be symbolized as 
> spike = |damned|, if I can figure out any explanation for why those 
> two things should be correlated.  Gay men still have the short Y 
> chromosome, same as I do, which I have long suspected as being the 
> root of my non-hiptitude.
> Or perhaps it is just an illusion. ...  So I don't know, perhaps if you took a bunch of straight guys, you might get 20%-ish who grok the incomprehensible subtleties of fashion, I don't know.

I think it is largely an illusion, or perhaps, a trained phenomenon.

While there seem to be some biological reasons why women on average are 
a bit better than men at color (some women with terachromacy, more men 
with colorblindness) - see 
- I think there is also plenty of training from culturally imposed games 
and tasks that rewards girls more than boys for being good with colors. 
And I think this is definitely true for fashion or mere clothing skills. 
So we get trained early on to be good at certain things... or that it is 
slightly "off" to be good at something your gender is not supposed to 
specialize in.

However, when leafing through the Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion 
for my post on fashion dynamics I found a rather extensive entry on 
Fashion and Homosexuality. One thing that struck me was that for a long 
time homosexuals relied on codes or signifiers to signal to each other - 
a green carnation, a red necktie, suede shoes, etc. Good for staying 
hidden but also requiring a sharp eye to detect these often small 
details (which also changed over time, since they might become too well 
known among outsiders). This might have acted as a reason to stay on top 
of clothing. While this makes for a satifying theory, I doubt it is a 
complete explanation.

In looking at this I also came across the article "Human preference for 
individual colors" by Stephen E. Palmer ; Karen B. Schloss, Proc. SPIE 
7527, Human Vision and Electronic Imaging XV, 752718 (February 17, 
2010); doi:10.1117/12.849110 They found some gender differences in what 
colors people like, with men preferring more saturated colors and women 
preferring more muted colors. This leads to the following interesting 

> Some readers may wonder at the seeming conflict between these 
> preferences and male versus female dress
> patterns, given that males tend to wear more muted colors and females 
> more saturated colors. The data make perfect sense, however, once one 
> realizes that most people dress to attract members of the opposite 
> sex. If the color preferences of gay men and lesbians are similar to 
> those of straight men and women, respectively, then it would be 
> consistent with our interpretation of the relation between dressing 
> patterns and color preferences if gay men tend to wear more saturated 
> colors (because they are dressing to attract other men) and lesbians 
> tend to wear more muted colors (because they are dressing to attract 
> other women). We know of no data on this subject, but it is consistent 
> with cultural stereotypes about how gay men and lesbians tend to dress.
I don't know if this actually works, but it is a cute idea. And this 
might actually give some reason for listening to fashion advice from 
same-gender people with different preferences.

At the time of writing this I am wearing a tan shirt, dark olive pants, 
and a grey herringbone jacket... I am so going to lose my gayness 
certificate :-)

Anders Sandberg,
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
Faculty of Philosophy
Oxford University

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