XKCD Color Survey

Quick note: this post is a general rant in which I pose a question. I say nothing significant about gender roles, feminism, or anything relevant to the world. I didn’t intend to make any bold statements, here. But I would genuinely be curious about your interpretations of the survey!

I’m a HUGE XKCD fan. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at midnight, you can pretty much count that my internet browser will be open and I’ll be hitting “reload” while I wait for every-nerdy-woman’s-dream-man (Randall Munroe) to post a comic that I don’t understand because it’s about computers and I DON’T FUCKING GET COMPUTERS ANYMORE WE SHOULD RUN EVERYTHING IN MS DOS SO I GET IT.

No, generally his comics don’t include lots of computer language that I don’t understand, and frequently, they’re extremely witty. Check out yesterday’s about the guy on his phone in the  – cemetery.

What I really wanted to draw attention to, though, are the results of Munroe’s sort of unscientific XKCD Color Survey, in which a bunch of people labeled colors they saw on their computer monitors:

Basically, women were slightly more liberal with the modifiers, but otherwise they generally agreed (and some of the differences may be sampling noise).  The results were similar across the survey—men and women tended on average to call colors the same names.

And then, Munroe made his greatest mistake. He decided to find “the color names most disproportionately popular among each group; that is, the names that the most women came up with compared to the fewest men (or vice versa).”

Here’s the list for women:

1. Dusty Teal
2. Blush Pink
3. Dusty Lavender
4. Butter Yellow
5. Dusky Rose

Ladies. Are. You. For. Real.

I took the color survey, and I encourage those of you who never got the chance to take it to get a feel for what it was like, even though your results won’t count.

Then come back and tell me how many times you said “dusty teal.”

Actually, come back and tell me how many times you said “dusty,” “blush,” “butter,” or “dusky.” I’m not going to pretend I’m your standard stereotypical girly-girl, and I’m not going to pretend I have any visual capabilities whatsoever. In fact, I’m not even going to pretend I’m not slightly colorblind (in high school, I was told my best friend’s jacket was green by practically ten people – four years later, I maintain that it is yellow. This is pretty standard to my life.). But I don’t get it. The fact that more than one woman found the phrase “dusty teal” descriptive of any color on that survey confuses me. What does “dusty” mean? And why is that women used the phrase “dusty teal” disproportionately more than men? I mean, DAMN. The women taking this survey obviously put some energy into it – I got bored pretty quickly. And I barely used any modifiers at all.

Take a look at the disproportionate color names that men chose after Munroe put them through the spam filter:

1. Penis
2. Gay
3. WTF
4. Dunno
5. Baige

To quote Mr. Monroe: “I weep for my gender.”

So let’s just summarize the differences, here: women disproportionately said “dusky rose.” Men disproportionately said “penis.”

So what’s the deal? Why is it that women are using modifiers more frequently? Why is it that women are using more obscure colors with crazy, obscure modifiers that I didn’t even know had any relation to color? And PENIS why am I apparently not at all like other women when it comes to color recognition PENIS!!!!111one!

Any thoughts?

    • Melanie
    • June 6th, 2010

    There have actually been quite a few BCS/Psych studies that show women tend to see/label more shades of colors than men. Off the top of my head, I can’t really be more specific than that, but there you go.

    P.S. The only modifiers I had were light and dark, so I’m with you on this. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever used the word lavender to describe a color in my life.

    P.P.S. I just had a sudden flash of recovered memories. Some gene that has to do with color recognition/perception/something like that is carried on the X chromosome (or something like that, I’m not too good with the genetics stuff.) That gene is why men have a higher rate of colorblindness and is why overall women tend to actually perceive smaller differences in shades of color than men do. The evolutionary explanation that’s been put forth is that women needed greater ability to discern between shades of color in berries when gathering food.

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