Sex-related differences in chromatic sensitivity

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Rodriguez Carmona, M. L. ; Sharpe, L. T. ; Harlow, J. A. ; Barbur, J. L. (2008)

Generally women are believed to be more discriminating than men in the use of colour names and this is often taken to imply superior colour vision. However, if both X-chromosome linked colour deficient males (~8%) and females (<1%) as well as heterozygote female carriers (~15%) are excluded from comparisons, then differences between men and women in red-green colour discrimination have been reported as not being significant (e.g., Pickford, 1944; Hood et al., 2006). We re-examined this question by assessing the performance of 150 males and 150 females on the Colour Assessment and Diagnosis (CAD) test (Rodriguez-Carmona, 2005). This is a sensitive test that yields small colour detection thresholds. The test employs direction-specific, moving, chromatic stimuli embedded in a background of random, dynamic, luminance contrast noise. A four-alternative, forced-choice procedure is employed to measure the subject’s thresholds for detection of colour signals in 16 directions in colour space, while ensuring that the subject cannot make use of any residual luminance contrast signals. In addition, we measured the Rayleigh anomaloscope matches in a subgroup of 111 males and 114 females. All the age-matched males (30.8 ± 9.7) and females (26.7 ± 8.8) had normal colour vision as diagnosed by a battery of conventional colour vision tests. Females with known colour deficient relatives were excluded from the study. Comparisons between the male and female groups revealed no significant differences in anomaloscope midpoints (p=0.709), but a significant difference in matching ranges (p=0.040); females on average tended to have a larger mean range (4.11) than males (3.75). Females also had significantly higher CAD thresholds than males along the red-green (p=0.0004), but not along the yellow-blue discrimination axis. The differences between males and females in red-green discrimination may be related to the heterozygosity in X-linked cone photopigment expression common among females.
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