Sight, Sex and Culture

Adrian Rodriguez, Contributing Writer

What defines the way we see the world?

A recent study conducted by Professor Israel Abramov of Brooklyn College sought to measure the impact of biological sex on vision. While the impact of biological sex on other senses has been well-documented, there has been a lack of attention in relation to vision, which Abramov sought to correct.

For the study, Abramov gathered young adults with “normal” vision and put them through a series of tests. The results, published in the most recent issue of the journal “Biology of Sex Differences,” found that males possess overall superior vision and especially excelled in “sensitivity for fine detail and for rapidly moving stimuli.” Abramov and his team of researchers also noted that females are shown to make finer distinctions amongst colored objects. Based on their findings, the team postulates that the link between sex and vision may have originated with the hunter-gatherer roles of our ancestors.

The article concludes: “The hunter-gatherer hypothesis correctly predicts that adult males will perform better for targets in far-space–the hunter must perceive and correctly aim at more distant targets–while females will be better for near- space–arguing that they are the gatherers and foragers for nearby foods…males indeed are much more sensitive to high spatial frequencies. However, the sensitivity difference at low spatial frequencies is relatively small and indeed females may do better for static or slowly moving targets, which would ac- cord with attending to nearby, stationary objects.”

Abramov’s findings call into question the influence of society and culture on man’s perception of the world around him, suggesting that this influence has manifested itself in a physiological manner by way of evolution. Linguistic scholars generally support the notion that, to an extent, language can influence thought and some non-linguistic behaviors, a principle known as linguistic relativity. For example, differences of distinction between colors can be found cross-culturally. In Japan, the color meaning “go” on a standard traffic light is referred to as “ao,” which is the Japanese color word for what native English speakers consider blue and green. Though today, the Japanese have a separate word, “midori,” to refer to general objects as green; this term was at first considered a shade of “ao,” and “ao” itself is still used to describe certain vegetation and vegetables. Similarly, where English- speakers denote a difference between red and pink, tradition- ally, they have been viewed as variations of the same color in Chinese. The “color naming” debate has itself been a focus of research and debate, in order to better understand the de- gree of involvement that biology and culture have on how we make color distinctions. This new research may shed some light on the longstanding debate.

While males can now claim superior overall sense of sight, women can rest easy with the knowledge that females have been found to possess finer senses of hearing, taste, touch and smell. Not that it’s a competition, of course.

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