Gender Labels Affect Color Preference In Children

A study by Hong Kong scientists has demonstrated that children’s perception of gender-appropriate colors can be easily manipulated.

AsianScientist (Jan. 12, 2018) – Researchers in Hong Kong have discovered that boys’ preference for blue and girls’ liking of pink is not just a Western construct, but is also a phenomenon in urban Asian societies. They describe their findings in the journal Sex Roles.

In Western countries, blue and pink are recognized as boy and girl colors, respectively. These gender labels are often assigned during early childhood. Whether such color preferences and gender labels apply in Asian countries remains unclear.

In this study, a team of scientists led by Dr. Yeung Sui Ping and Dr. Wong Wang Ivy of the University of Hong Kong recruited 129 preschool Chinese children aged between five and seven from two kindergartens in Hong Kong. The researchers first assessed the children’s preference for pink versus blue by showing them cards and toys in these colors. The children were then presented with yellow and green cards and toys.

Children who were presented with colored cards and toys that had no reference to a specific gender expressed no preference for a specific color. However, preschoolers who had been told that yellow was a girl’s color while green was a boy’s color demonstrated gender differences in the choices they made.

According to the researchers, the gender differences between preferred colors in children is noteworthy because it is so much more prominent than most other psychological differences between the sexes.

“Our findings support the notion that gender-typed liking for pink versus blue is a particularly salient gender difference,” said Yeung. “Moreover, our findings reveal that gender differences could be created merely by applying gender labels.”

“By applying gender labels, not only could concrete materials such as toys become gender-typed, but also abstract qualities such as colors, with children increasing or decreasing their likings for particular colors based on the gender labels available in their social environment,” Wong added.

The findings support previous research that highlighted the strong influence of gender labels, such as ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls.’ Furthermore, the observations are in line with gender schema theory that says that once children have learnt a specific gender identity, their behavior will be guided by the standards set as being appropriate for their specific sex. These standards will guide them later in life on how they interact and adapt to their surroundings, for instance, when taking on chores around the house, such as cooking, cleaning or repairing things.

“Many gender differences and stereotypes in developed Asian regions resemble those in the West, which is not surprising, given the high degree of Westernization and the prevalence of gender color-coding typical of Western cultures in Hong Kong,” said Wong.

The researchers also tested whether using gender-coded colors in toys affects how well children play. The children were given yellow and green puzzles to play with. Whether the puzzles were in the gender appropriate or gender inappropriate color did not make a difference in the children’s puzzle performance. However, if the children had been exposed to gender labels, a gender difference emerged, with boys outperforming girls. These findings suggest that gender labels have far greater impact on children than previously thought.

The article can be found at: Yeung et al. (2018) Gender Labels on Gender-Neutral Colors: Do they Affect Children’s Color Preferences and Play Performance?


Source: Springer; Photo: Shutterstock.
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