Daantaat in a comment here tells us that in Asia pink is not gendered; men wear it and that is not considered remarkable. But it seems many little girls in the West at least are keen for pink from the get-go, and it’s considered a girly color. So how does that happen? Doesn’t the fact that the preference starts so early just show that it must be innate?
Well, in fact, no. Instead, it looks as though we probably have a culturally induced gender characteristic that appears at a remarkably early age. And we can now understand how that trick is worked.
It is extremely important that we are able to predict outcomes, and our brain is equipped with a special system for learning very rapidly where the rewards are. In fact, even given the much less complex – and very much smaller – brain of the bee, you can turn a bee onto pink in just one trial. And that’s by associating pink in the bee with something the bee wants, such as sugar.
Here’s a lecture by Terry Sejnowski which explains the mechanism. In humans it’s the dopamine stuff that philosophers are starting to learn about these days. The talk was given for high school students, and it is very clear without being boring, I think. It is really long, but you get to the bees fairly early on, @ 16:55.
I just encountered a way to get more of the picture. Stephen E. Palmer, who along with David Marr forms the philosophers’ paradigm of a vision scientist, has been looking at color preferences among human beings. It turns out that his recent research strongly suggests that we like colors that are generally associated with things in some way rewarding to us, such as blue skies and healthy foliage.
There’s a conclusion that follows, though we are not dealing with the exact sciences here. But it looks as though if one has a generation of girls becoming devotees of one particular color, their environment is strongly associating that color and rewards. One doesn’t have to be very quick to figure out what it is. Babies love attention, smiles and so on.
Nothing in this explanation is inconsistent with saying that there’s some primitive and genetic-based association between pink and rewards in women, but there seems to be evidence against that hypothesis. Thus it is not present in Asian women. And given the movie clip in Think Pink, Part One, it looks as though the love of pink is fairly recent in Western culture.