Pretty vacant in pink study

December 19, 2013

Steven Rose’s excellent article is a much-needed antidote to the “neuro” fad (“Grey matters”, 12 December). I listened recently to a repeated BBC Radio 4 programme about little girls’ preference for pink. Expert advice was sought from a university to explain their fondness for the colour. And who appeared? A psychologist? No, a “neuroscientist”.

This talking head told us that girls like pink because the female brain is attuned to looking for berries. Men are evolved to hunt, you see, whereas evolution has equipped the “fairer sex” for nothing more daring than plucking defenceless small fruit from bushes. Berries are “pink” (except they often aren’t), ergo girls’ brains are hard-wired to like that colour. Simple.

Little girls liking pink has nothing to do with neurons. Or at least it has, but only in the sense that it also has something to do with molecules – and in either case, neurons or molecules, the revelation is entirely banal. Is our physics envy really so profound that we cannot define the things that we study without pretending that there is some clever proper-science basis to our work, far distant from namby-pamby words beginning with “psych” or “socio”?

Gary Thomas
School of Education
University of Birmingham

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