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Thursday, June 14, 2018 12:11 am

Paint and suffering

PHOTO COURTESY AMY ALKON
Amy Alkon
I’m doing some work on my landlady’s house. She just cannot figure out what color to paint it. Now, when a man paints his house, he goes to Home Depot, grabs a few cans of paint and starts right in. Simple. Git ‘er done. Not so with a woman. She’ll agonize endlessly over a bunch of paint chips. She’ll finally make a decision, but even then it’s subject to change without notice. So, my question: Has anyone analyzed this phenomenon and found a connection with, you know, a woman’s “time of the month”? – Handydude

Some people are just irritating. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with their ovaries.

Women’s house paint preferences, sadly, have not been a prolific area of scientific study. However, there was a bunch of research suggesting that women’s mate preferences shift with their hormone levels during the menstrual cycle – for example, findings that women went for more masculine faces in the fertile phase of their cycle. But there was a problem. These studies had too-small sample sizes and other methodological shortcomings, which can lead to false positives. When psychologist Benedict Jones and his colleagues ran a big long-term study to check these findings – using more rigorous methodology – they found “no compelling evidence that preferences for facial masculinity track changes in women’s hormonal status.”

However, there do seem to be sex differences in decision-making. These differences emerge before the menstruation years, note neurobiologist Ruud van den Bos and his colleagues (referencing others’ research on 7-to-9-year-old children). Their own research finds that men and women show “small but consistent differences in decision-making” that appear related to sex differences in the brain – in information-processing and emotion regulation. Women appear to be “more sensitive” to potential losses (effects of bad choices) – which, in turn, might make an individual woman more hesitant to settle on a choice. (No choose, no lose!)

The truth is, there are times when we all have difficulty making a choice. Psychologist Barry Schwartz explains that we (men and women) are driven to protect ourselves from regret – the pain of blaming ourselves for making the wrong choice. Fear of regret makes choosing especially challenging when we have a bunch of options without meaningful differences – like eight slightly different shades of off-white house paint: “‘Creme Fraiche’? ‘Coastal Ivory’? Maybe ‘Breezy Linen’?…”

As for your observation about the chop-chop way men choose a paint color, consider that maybe the average dude – one who isn’t an architect, a decorator, or a design connoisseur – might not be so picky about the color of his house. If you want to help your landlady, get some techie friend of yours to Photoshop each color onto the house so the final result is less abstract. Suggest she invite friends over for cocktails to help her choose. This isn’t just a social occasion; it’s a regret-minimization tactic – allowing her to disperse the blame for any grim post-painting epiphanies, such as “Ugh. ‘Tuscan Yellow’ – or, as we call it in the States, ‘3-Day-Old Urine Sample.’”

© 2018, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com). Weekly radio show: blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon

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