Here's why men can't buy decent Chanucah gifts

November 24, 2016 23:22

The Chanucah lights are shining and many are celebrating the vanquishing of the Assyrian Greeks, and the triumph of good over evil, through the exchange of gifts. This may just be Chanucah gelt for children but some will shower their loved ones with more lavish presents. And my years of research show that what men and women create and prefer visually can be poles apart in terms of colour, shape and themes.

So, modern consumerism and the spiritual message of Chanucah can be reconciled through the selfless process of setting aside personal preferences and offering gifts that will have real appeal to another person.

If you don't want your gifts to be recycled to the next unfortunate, remember that your idea of beauty may not be his. Even with cards, I found that 75 per cent of a sample of men preferred the male-designed realistic scene with a corresponding proportion of women preferring the more stylised and child-like version.

The strength of this "own-sex visual preference" holds good across cultures and types of design so, as you contemplate a few more days of frenzied purchasing, you might wonder what lies behind this.

After height, the biggest difference between men and women is not emotional but relates to the visuo-spatial domain. For it seems that men have better visual rotation skills and targeting accuracy, served by having eyes spaced 5mm further apart than those of women, while up to 50 per cent of women may have a fourth colour pigment to men's three, providing access to hundreds of millions more colours.

What is more, around eight percent of men are colour-blind compared with half-a-per-cent of women and also have weaker object-location memory.

At the root of this? Well, men and women have lived as hunter-gatherers for much of their history. If you think about it, men's skills are brilliantly adapted to hunting since 3-D skills taken with colour-blindness (which helps see through camouflage) guarantee accurate targeting. Women, for their part, needed superb colour and close-up detail vision for the task of discerning edible berries in a plant array while men's focus on moving prey against a distant horizon would have created a focus on linearity rather than colour or detail and an ability to see objects apart from their context.

It is all very well having hunter or gatherer vision but how does this play out in our modern consumer society?

Most of the people doing the shopping are women - they make 83 per cent of all consumer purchases - and yet most of those doing the designing of the products, websites and adverts are men.

This gives us armies of hunters seeking to win over armies of gatherers when actually a greater preponderance of gatherers would be to the advantage of both retailers and purchasers.

I recently met the marketing director of one of the UK's largest retailers and suggested the decline in sales could be stemmed by feminising the Spartan shop interior and merchandise. He told me how he and a fellow male CEO colleague shunned clutter in favour of streamlined space. But appealing to his personal sensibilities was not that helpful since 80 per cent of his customers were women and a bit of organised clutter could have created an infinitely more tempting environment.

Issues can surface at a personal level, too. Friends were choosing a new mixer tap for the kitchen and at first Nina said she would leave the choice to David. However, when he returned from the shops with a minimalist techno metal mixer, operated by slick vertical levers, she realised she did care about what the tap looked like after all. Her preference was for something more rounded, and white. A major domestic stand-off ensued - over taps.

So, if you are splashing out for your loved-one over Chanucah, remember that your needs and desires are not just very different from his - or hers - but they are wired into our DNA from millions of years of providing for each other. And, if you're working in a business with female customers, maybe hunters have to allow more gatherers into the creative and decision-making functions. Now that would be a surprising Chanucah gift.

November 24, 2016 23:22

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