Can Gender Influence What We See, Hear, Smell, and Feel?

Research links gender and some sensory experiences.

Posted Feb 25, 2019

If you find yourself locked into an intense design-related debate with someone of another gender, the neuroscience-based findings that follow may be useful. They highlight a few ways that men and women differ in how they experience the world around themselves. First, a note: the research detailed below was generally conducted several years ago and asked people participating in studies to self-identify as female or male; it needs to be applied with that in mind.

  • Women usually have a more acute sense of touch than men. A woman would generally, for example, be able to detect variations in textures that a man would not. This may explain why something, such as an upholstery fabric, might feel too rough for one partner but not another or why a finish on a surface might feel just right to one evaluator but uneven to another.
  • Men don’t do as good a job at distinguishing one color from another as women do, but they, in turn, excel at tracking things that are moving rapidly, such as an annoying fly. Color “matches” that seem just right to some may thus be “just wrong” to others.
  • Females usually prefer redder colors than males do and differentiate more effectively among redder shades than men. 
  • Women have a keener sense of smell than men. The same goes for hearing; women’s ears tend to do a better job at keeping tabs on the world around them than men’s.  
  • Gender has also been linked to how people prefer to use spaces. Women are generally happier speaking to people sitting in front of them while men get a boost from sitting beside whomever they’re talking with.

Knowing about differences in how women and men process sensory information can make design-related “dispute resolution” a little bit easier.

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