Colors; Why Are They So Important To Children?

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Pink, blue, red, green, you name it…every child seems to have a favorite color.  In fact, some children are so passionate about their color choice that they insist that their clothes, room décor and school supplies all match.

BlueThis is not news to us in the toy industry.  After all, the wrong color choice can in a product or package can kill a product.  What we may not think about, however, is why.  Why are colors so important to children?  I found some answers to that question in a Slate article by Lucinda Rosenfeld entitled “Red! No, Blue! No, Light Blue!”

ImagesCA9SZF85As author Lucinda Rosenfeld puts the question this way:  “What makes the topic of favorite colors so darn interesting to the preschool and early-grade-school set? Is it all merchandising and peer pressure, or are particular colors actually speaking to these kids?”

She frames the question around her experience with her daughter’s love of pink. Here is how she relates it:

When my older daughter was close to 4… she declared that her favorite color was pink. From that day forth, she only wanted to wear pink clothing and shoes. Her favorite book was Pinkalicious. She

also wanted a pink bed and a pink room. So when it came time to create a proper bedroom for her…it seemed obvious that I should have the walls painted pink.

Three months later, however, her daughter changed her mind and was into other colors.  Rosenfeld opines that: “In rejecting pink, my older daughter was clearly sending the message that she’d outgrown toddlerdom and its ubiquitous princess culture, tiaras and all. I was proud of her, but also annoyed—mostly with myself for paying so much to the housepainter for those two coats of Pink Bliss.”

So why all the passion over color; for an answer she turned to Meri Wallace, “a parenting expert.”  Wallace thinks that “Somewhere around 3 years old, children become obsessed with differences in people…“I’m a boy; she’s a girl. She has blond hair; she has curly hair. They spend the rest of their childhoods trying to define themselves. Having a favorite color makes them unique. Just as having a special game or liking certain people does. It’s all about, I can choose.”

Wallace goes on to make the point that children want to feel like they fit in so color preference can be based upon what color a friend likes.  It’s the old school yard social network at its finest. 

But there also appears to be a strong biological component.  The author turns to Marilyn Read, “an associate professor of design and human environment at Oregon State University” for insights on this side of the equation.  Read states that the color pink “…is a color that makes us hungry. It’s also a color that boys like until they’re told not to like it,” says Read, who notes just one case in which gender differences in color preference might be nature not nurture: Some researchers suggest that boys tend to prefer yellow-based reds (think: tomatoes), while girls prefer blue-based reds (think: rubies). Both boys and girls tend to dislike orange.”

Is it biological; is it environmental or is a combination of the two?  Based upon my life experience, I intuit that peer pressure is the big determiner.  After all, fashion changes frequently so the big biological element at work may be the constant need to change preferences in order to fit in.

What do you think?  If you have insights on this topic please write in and let us know.



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3 thoughts

  1. Along the same lines as Rebecca’s comments, purple used to be associated with royalty and heroism, so purple was a boy’s color. Now of course, no older boy would be caught dead with a purple toy. It’s definitely a cultural thing.
    It always drove me nuts that preschool toys always had to be primary colors. That has certainly changed in the past few years, and I welcome the changes. But you still see a lot of primary colors for younger children, whereas
    I think they would welcome some new, fresh color palettes.

  2. Before about 1920 pink was the “boy” color, and blue was the “girl” color, at least for Western Europe and the U.S. Blue was the color of the Virgin Mary, while pink was the younger version of red – the color associated with masculinity.

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