The way males and females shop is influenced by our genes, a new study has found.

Daniel Kruger, researcher at the University of Michigan (UM) School of Public Health, says it's perfectly natural that men often can't tell a sage sock from a beige sock or that women can't tell if the shoe department is due north or west from the escalator.

From an evolutionary perspective, it all goes back to the skills that women used for gathering plant foods and the skills that men used for hunting meat.

The study examines shopping through the framework of evolutionary psychology to understand why so many more women enjoy spending a day picking through racks of clothes with friends, while most men can't get out of the mall fast enough.

“We have evidence that the kind of skills, abilities and behaviours that are important for hunting and gathering in current foraging societies emerge predictably in our modern consumer environment,” said Mr. Kruger, who conducted the study after a trip with friends across Europe.

After exploring sleepy little villages and reaching Prague, the first thing the women wanted to do was shop, Mr. Kruger said, and the men couldn't understand why.

“But that is not so unreasonable if you're thinking about a gathering strategy,” Mr. Kruger said. “Anytime you come into a new area you want to scope out the landscape and find out where the food patches are.”

In modern terms, women are much more likely than men to know when a specific type of item will go on sale. Women also spend much more time choosing the perfect fabric, colour and texture.

Men, on the other hand, often have a specific item in mind and want to get in, get it and get out, Kruger said. It's critical to get meat home as quickly as possible. Taking young children isn't safe in a hunt and would likely hinder progress.

“The value is in understanding each other - both your own shopping strategy and the strategy of the complementary sex,” Mr. Kruger said. “It helps demystify behaviours - guys, myself included, have been puzzled by why women shop the way they do."

And women can have a hard time understanding a man's aversion to it, he said. These findings are slated for publication in the December issue of the Journal of Social, Evolutionary & Cultural Psychology.

More In: Sci-Tech | Science