New research published in Sex Roles has found that gender labels influences children’s preferences.
“I was interested in understanding the causes and consequences of behaviours that are important in everyday life and that show large gender differences, and play and color preferences happen to be examples of these behaviors,” said study author Wang Ivy Wong of the University of Hong Kong.
“Researchers including myself have found that gender color-coding by the popular pink-blue divide affects children’s preferences. Some people may think that the color coding is simply an aesthetic issue, and if has an effect, it’s only on personal preferences. We wanted to take it one step further—-what if gender color-coding not only affects preferences but also performance?”
“Also, we wanted to test whether otherwise gender-neutral colours can become gender-typed by children just by applying arbitrary gender labels to the colours. This would give us insight into the possible ways in which pink and blue have become the respective colours for girls and boys.”
The study of 129 preschool Chinese children (aged between 5 and 7) found that girls tended to choose yellow toys when told that yellow was a girl’s color. Likewise, boys tended to choose green toys when told that green was a boy’s color.
Children who were not told that yellow or green was associated with a specific gender, on the other hand, showed no preference for a specific color of toy.
“It is possible to create a gender difference in young children by simply labelling, arbitrarily, something as for boys and something else as for girls,” Wong told PsyPost. “Gender labelling, by explicit gender terms or by color, not only affects preferences but also performance.”
The researchers also had the children play with yellow and green tangram puzzles. Exposure to gender labels improved boys’ but not girls’ performance. But having a “gender appropriate” or “gender inappropriate” color did not make much of a difference in the children’s ability to put the puzzle together.
“We found that gender labelling affected some aspects of performance, but as an experiment, we tested this using a specific task with specific stimuli (tangram puzzles). We need more varied tests to see to what extent the results are generalizable,” Wong said.
“We also found that the children in Hong Kong show gender differences in preferences for the colours pink and blue. This suggests that the gender difference in color preferences currently that have caught attention in the West is generalizable to children in developed Asian regions. However, because Hong Kong is highly westernised, this cross-cultural resemblance cannot be taken as evidence that the gender difference is universal independent of culture.”
The study, “Gender Labels on Gender-Neutral Colors: Do they Affect Children’s Color Preferences and Play Performance?“, was authored by Sui Ping Yeung and Wang Ivy Wong.