Not too long ago, it was de rigueur to have a newborn boy’s room painted in baby blue and a girl’s room dressed in pink (or maybe lemon chiffon), but these days many parents see color predetermination as a way of pigeonholing the chick before it’s even in the nest.
Just as many parents, though, see this kind of color coding as much ado about nothing. These folks may be okay with tradition, fond of gender-based color assignment or simply don’t give a flying squirrel about what Dr. Whoever says about the “psychology of color.”
Regardless of where you fall on the kid-centric color spectrum, it must be acknowledged that there is some science behind color psychology. Colors make us feel certain things, and sometimes color can even impact our choices.
Consider: You expect your ketchup to be red. Well, back in 2000 Heinz cared not one whit about your expectations and introduced ketchup in green, purple, orange and teal. The product flopped even though it tasted exactly like the red stuff. Why? The same reason Crystal Pepsi flopped in the 90s – it just didn’t look “right.”
The same thing happens in other areas of our lives, too. We expect grass to be green and the sky to be blue. Eventually, we get to the colors of boys’ and girls’ clothes, rooms, toys and so on, and we find we’ve formed similar expectations – expectations that those same boys and girls may adopt if they are reinforced. In fact, studies show that children can develop gender-related color stereotypes at a very early age.
Color Conditioning (Science vs. Society)
Science tells us that we are conditioned through experience and a clichéd example proves the point: You touch a hot burner once, learn that it hurts and then you don’t do it anymore. The same goes for experiences that are tied to color, and that includes the burner – you’re more aware that it’s dangerous if it’s glowing red.
But, how does any of this translate to kids and the colors with which we surround them?
Science of Color
Studies abound regarding the impact of color on children’s developing minds. A recent research brief titled The Impact of Color on Learning published by the University of Georgia School of Design & Planning cites several studies that link color to increases in productivity and accuracy (any color vs. white), reductions in eye fatigue (neutral hues) and support of other developmental processes.
This is in addition to several studies over the years that have proven links between color and emotion. In Psychology Today, an article on creative development cites a University of California study that found children associate bright colors with positive feelings and dark colors with negative ones. Studies further show that boys and girls feel differently toward certain colors and that these are likely learned associations …
Society of Color
To wit, many of these associations are driven by our environment and society. It goes without saying that color preference (or disfavor) can be passed from parent to child in myriad ways. Even simple things like English colloquialisms can help shape attitudes toward color: Have you ever been green with envy, or maybe felt a little blue?
Then, of course, there is marketing and its role in driving color associations. Marketers have spent billions trying to convince us that red cars are faster, black dresses are sexier and that – and this is a big one – pink is for girls. The Smithsonian offers a captivating historical look at how this last came to be; how pink used to be “for boys” as recently as 1918 and then slowly flip-flopped and solidified in 1940s as a “feminine” color.
The point is that pop culture decided on pink and blue, but it doesn’t have to decide for you. When it comes to you and your kids, you are the captain of the Color Guard. Keep the power of color in mind and everything is sure to work out fine.
We wish you luck in your most colorful kid-friendly décor endeavors.