Blue for Boys, Pink for Girls…That’s Child’s Play

By Bill Andrews | January 5, 2018 3:48 pm

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Anyone who has kids, or has been to a toy store, is familiar with the gender color code: blue is for boys, pink is for girls.

But actually, it looks like associating a gender with a particular color is a fairly recent development and, like so much these days, is actually the fault of society, man. And according to a study that came out yesterday, gender-based colors are a social preference we can actually manipulate in little kids — and it can actually have real consequences.

Go Green and Yellow

The study, which appeared in the journal Sex Roles, tracked the preferences of 126 Chinese children in Hong Kong, ages 5 to 7. First, they just wanted to make sure Western color preferences (blue=boys, pink=girls) had permeated the Asian children. They had.

With that established, things got interesting. The researchers introduced two new colors into the mix, green and yellow, and split the kids into two groups. The control group just got to play with toys of the new colors and that was that, but the experimental group first heard that yellow was for girls, and green for boys. Would that, the researchers wondered, be enough to affect the kids’ color preferences, and even cognitive abilities?

The answer, on both counts, was yes. Apparently little kids are super easy to manipulate!

Color Control

Specifically, the boys who were told green was a boys’ color almost immediately began preferring to play with green toys, and ditto for girls with yellow. And not just toys — the color itself became more or less attractive. Further, both boys and girls in this group preferred “their” color over boys and girls in the control group. (The researchers took into account the kids’ previous color preferences for green and yellow, and even had the tester wear black to prevent any undue color influence.)

Interestingly, girls playing on “boy-colored” puzzles and vice versa didn’t do worse than kids playing with the appropriate color, as the researchers expected. Everyone did about the same as everyone else, on that front. What did happen, though, was the boys in the control group did better than everyone else. So, while the colors themselves didn’t affect the kids, the existence of gender roles did, with boys coming out ahead.

As the study states: “Our results provided another picture of the effect of gender labels by showing that as long as boys had been exposed to information about gender-appropriateness, their subsequent performance improved.”

Not surprisingly, the researchers end up suggesting that it might not be a good idea to segregate toys into clearly marked and colored boys’ and girls’ sections. It’s not exactly a new suggestion, but now at least more science backs it up.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts
  • Uncle Al

    little kids are super easy to manipulate!” Achieving a consensus of credulity merely requires a frock of authority – religion, Socialism, climatology, psychology, Stanley Milgram at Yale, Philip Zimbardo at Stanford.

    … Science is easily perverted into Lysenkoism – resonance at the highest of social intent frequencies.
    … “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy”

    • OWilson

      Bring them up to believe the conventional wisdom, the “97% consensus”, to not be an independent thinker, or question true belivers, and certainly not to be skeptical of authority, and you can survive quite nicely in a warm and fuzzy cocoon of like minded thinkers.

      But don’t expect to balance the books, or pruduce any Newtons, Darwins, Curies, Einsteins, Bohrs, Planks, Shrodingers, Rutherfords, Flemings, Fermis ot Hertzs.

      Be happy with Bill Nye, “The Scence Guy”. :) and for something a little easier on the brain get the Kardashian Ipone App!

      • Uncle Al

        Islam is a religion of peace. Mexicans are all nice people. The congenitally inconsequential and the viciously stupid are deserving. Black lies matter. Physical reality exists. Economic and social theory do not change reality.

        Progressive mentation in all its forms – Snowflake life, free money, immunity to law, perversity of love, denial of objective knowledge, hatred of America – marks the downward spiral to Hell of civilization.

        Strive for intellectual puberty.

  • Not_that_anyone_cares, but…

    At birth, sometimes before, the first announcement is “It’s a boy/girl.” 20-30 years later an employer can get into trouble for asking about this. It ain’t just colors that are bewildering.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


Briefing you on the must-know news and trending topics in science and technology today.

See More

Collapse bottom bar