Preferences for Pink and Blue: The Development of Color Preferences as a Distinct Gender-Typed Behavior in Toddlers

Abstract

Many gender differences are thought to result from interactions between inborn factors and sociocognitive processes that occur after birth. There is controversy, however, over the causes of gender-typed preferences for the colors pink and blue, with some viewing these preferences as arising solely from sociocognitive processes of gender development. We evaluated preferences for gender-typed colors, and compared them to gender-typed toy and activity preferences in 126 toddlers on two occasions separated by 6–8 months (at Time 1, M = 29 months; range 20–40). Color preferences were assessed using color cards and neutral toys in gender-typed colors. Gender-typed toy and activity preferences were assessed using a parent-report questionnaire, the Preschool Activities Inventory. Color preferences were also assessed for the toddlers’ parents using color cards. A gender difference in color preferences was present between 2 and 3 years of age and strengthened near the third birthday, at which time it was large (d > 1). In contrast to their parents, toddlers’ gender-typed color preferences were stronger and unstable. Gender-typed color preferences also appeared to establish later and were less stable than gender-typed toy and activity preferences. Gender-typed color preferences were largely uncorrelated with gender-typed toy and activity preferences. These results suggest that the factors influencing gender-typed color preferences and gender-typed toy and activity preferences differ in some respects. Our findings suggest that sociocognitive influences and play with gender-typed toys that happen to be made in gender-typed colors contribute to toddlers’ gender-typed color preferences.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

References

  1. Alexander, G. M. (2003). An evolutionary perspective of sex-typed toy preferences: Pink, blue, and the brain. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32, 7–14.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Alexander, G. M., Wilcox, T., & Woods, R. (2009). Sex differences in infants’ visual interest in toys. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 427–433.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Allison, P. D. (2001). Missing data. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Arthur, A. E., Bigler, R. S., & Ruble, D. N. (2009). An experimental test of the effects of gender constancy on sex typing. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 104, 427–446.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Berenbaum, S. A., & Hines, M. (1992). Early androgens are related to childhood sex- stereotyped toy preferences. Psychological Science, 3, 203–206.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Block, J. H. (1983). Differential premises arising from differential socialization of the sexes. Child Development, 54, 1335–1354.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Bornstein, M. H. (1985). Human infant color vision and color perception. Infant Behavior and Development, 8, 109–113.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Boyatzis, C. J., & Varghese, R. (1994). Children’s emotional associations with colors. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 155, 77–85.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Caldera, Y. M., Huston, A. C., & O’Brien, M. (1989). Social interactions and play patterns of parents and toddlers with feminine, masculine and neutral toys. Child Development, 60, 70–76.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Campbell, A., Shirley, L., & Caygill, L. (2002). Sex-typed preferences in three domains: Do two-year-olds need cognitive variables? British Journal of Psychology, 93, 203–217.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Campbell, A., Shirley, L., Heywood, C., & Crook, C. (2000). Infants’ visual preference for sex- congruent babies, children, toys and activities: A longitudinal study. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 18, 479–498.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Chiu, S. W., Gervan, S., Fairbrother, C., Johnson, L. L., Owen-Anderson, A. F. H., Bradley, S. J., & Zucker, K. J. (2006). Sex-dimorphic color preference in children with gender identity disorder: A comparison to clinical and community controls. Sex Roles, 55, 385–395.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Cohen, P. N. (2013). Children’s gender and parents’ color preferences. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 393–397.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Del Giudice, M. (2012). The 20th century reversal of pink-blue gender coding: A scientific urban legend? [Letter to the Editor]. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 1321–1323.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Do, C. B., & Batzoglou, S. (2008). What is the expectation maximization algorithm? Nature Biotechnology, 26, 897–899.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Doering, R. W., Zucker, K. J., Bradley, S. J., & MacIntyre, R. B. (1989). Effects of neutral toys on sex-typed play in children with gender identity disorder. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 17, 563–574.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Ellis, L., & Ficek, C. (2001). Color preferences according to gender and sexual orientation. Personality and Individual Differences, 31, 1375–1379.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Fagot, B. I., & Leinbach, M. D. (1989). The young child’s gender schema: Environmental input, internal organization. Child Development, 60, 663–672.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Feng, J., Spence, I., & Pratt, J. (2007). Playing an action video game reduces gender differences in spatial cognition. Psychological Science, 18, 850–855.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Fine, C. (2010). Delusions of gender. London: Icon Books.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Franklin, A., Bevis, L., Ling, Y., & Hurlbert, A. (2010). Biological components of colour preference in infancy. Developmental Science, 13, 346–354.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Golombok, S., & Rust, J. (1993a). The measurement of gender role behavior in pre-school behavior: A research note. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 34, 805–811.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Golombok, S., & Rust, J. (1993b). The pre-school activities inventory: A standardized assessment of gender role in children. Psychological Assessment, 5, 131–136.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Golombok, S., Rust, J., Zervoulis, K., Croudace, T., Golding, J., & Hines, M. (2008). Developmental trajectories of sex-typed behavior in boys and girls: A longitudinal general population study of children aged 2.5–8 years. Child Development, 79, 1583–1593.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Golombok, S., Rust, J., Zervoulis, K., Croudace, T., Golding, J., & Hines, M. (2012). Continuity in sex-typed behavior from preschool to adolescence: A longitudinal population study of boys and girls aged 3-13 years. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 591–597.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Halim, M. L., Ruble, D. N., Tamis-LeMonda, C. S., Zosuls, K. M., Lyrye, L. E., & Greulich, F. K. (2014). Pink frilly dresses and the avoidance of all things “girly”: Children’s appearance rigidity and cognitive theories of gender development. Developmental Psychology, 50, 1091–1101.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Hines, M. (2010). Sex-related variation in human behavior and the brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 14, 448–456.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Hines, M. (2011). Gender development and the human brain. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 34, 67–86.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Hines, M., Golombok, S., Rust, J., Johnston, K. J., Golding, J., & The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children Study Team. (2002). Testosterone during pregnancy and gender role behavior of preschool children: A longitudinal, population study. Child Development, 73, 1678–1687.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Holden, M. D., & Bosse, K. K. (1900). The order of development of color perception and of color preferences in the child. Archives of Ophthalmology, 29, 261–278.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Hurlbert, A. C. (2007). Girls prefer pink-or at least a redder shade of blue. Retrieved from http://www.ncl.ac.uk/press.office/press.release/item/?ref=1187625608.

  32. Hurlbert, A. C., & Ling, Y. (2007). Biological components of sex differences in color preference. Current Biology, 17, 623–625.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Hyde, J. (2005). The gender similarities hypothesis. American Psychologist, 60, 581–592.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Jadva, V., Golombok, S., & Hines, M. (2010). Infants’ preferences for toys, colors and shapes: Sex differences and similarities. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 1261–1273.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Kohlberg, L. (1966). A cognitive-developmental analysis of children’s sex-role concepts and attitudes. In E. E. Maccoby (Ed.), The development of sex differences (pp. 82–173). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Lamminmaki, A., Hines, M., Kuiri-Hänninen, T., Kilpeläinen, L., Dunkel, L., & Sankilampi, U. (2012). Testosterone measured in infancy predicts subsequent sex-typed behavior in boys and in girls. Hormones and Behavior, 61, 611–616.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Leinbach, M. D., Hort, B. E., & Fagot, B. I. (1997). Bears are for boys: Metaphorical associations in young children’s gender stereotypes. Cognitive Development, 12, 107–130.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. LoBue, V., & DeLoache, J. S. (2011). Pretty in pink: The early development of gender-stereotyped colour preferences. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 29, 656–667.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Maccoby, E. E., & Jacklin, C. N. (1974). The psychology of sex differences. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Marcus, D. E., & Overton, W. F. (1978). The development of cognitive gender constancy and sex role preferences. Child Development, 49, 434–444.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Martin, C. L., & Halverson, C. F. (1981). A schematic processing model of sex typing and stereotyping in children. Child Development, 52, 1119–1134.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Martin, C. L., & Ruble, D. (2004). Children’s search for gender cues: Cognitive perspectives on gender development. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13, 67–70.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Martin, C. L., Ruble, D. N., & Szkrybalo, J. (2002). Cognitive theories of early gender development. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 903–933.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Masters, J. C., Ford, M. E., Arend, R., Grotevant, H. D., & Clark, L. V. (1979). Modeling and labeling as integrated determinants of children’s sex-typed imitative behavior. Child Development, 50, 364–371.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Moore, D. S., & Johnson, S. P. (2008). Mental rotation in human infants: A sex difference. Psychological Science, 19, 1063–1066.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Newcombe, N. S. (2007). Taking science seriously: Straight thinking about spatial sex differences. In S. Ceci & W. Williams (Eds.), Why aren’t more women in science? Top researchers debate the evidence (pp. 69–78). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Nordenstrom, A., Servin, A., Bohlin, G., Larsson, A., & Wedell, A. (2002). Sex-typed toy play behavior correlates with the degree of prenatal androgen exposure assessed by CYP21 genotype in girls with congenital adrenal hyperplasia. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 87, 5119–5124.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Palmer, S. E., & Schloss, K. B. (2010). An ecological valence theory of color preferences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107, 8877–8882.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Paoletti, J. B. (1987). Clothing and gender in America: Children’s fashions, 1890-1920. Signs, 13, 136–143.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Pasterski, V., Geffner, M. E., Brain, C., Hindmarsh, P., Brook, C., & Hines, M. (2005). Prenatal hormones and postnatal socialization by parents as determinants of male-typical toy play in girls with congenital adrenal hyperplasia. Child Development, 76, 264–278.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Picariello, M. L., Greenberg, D., & Pillemer, D. B. (1990). Children’s sex-related stereotyping of colors. Child Development, 61, 1453–1460.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Pomerleau, A., Bolduc, D., Malcuit, G., & Cossette, L. (1990). Pink or blue: Environmental gender stereotypes in the first two years of life. Sex Roles, 22, 359–367.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Quinn, P. C., & Liben, L. S. (2008). A sex difference in mental rotation in young infants. Psychological Science, 19, 1067–1070.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Rekers, G. A. (1975). Stimulus control over sex-typed play in cross-gender identified boys. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 20, 136–148.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Rubin, L. H., Witkiewitz, K., St. Andre, J., & Reilly, S. (2007). Methods for handling missing data in the behavioral neurosciences: Don’t throw the baby rat out with the bath water. Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education, 5, A71–A77.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  56. Ruble, D. N., Lurye, L. E., & Zosuls, K. M. (2010). Pink frilly dresses and early gender identity. Princeton Report on Knowledge, Vol. 2, issue 2. Retrieved from http://www.princeton.edu/prok/issues/2-2/pink_frilly.xml.

  57. Ruble, D. N., Taylor, L. J., Cyphers, L., Greulich, F. K., Lurye, L. E., & Shrout, P. E. (2007). Effect of gender constancy on age-related changes in gender beliefs. Child Development, 78, 1121–1136.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Serbin, L. A., Poulin-Dubois, D., Colburne, K. A., Sen, M. G., & Eichstedt, J. A. (2001). Gender stereotyping in infancy: Visual preferences for and knowledge of gender-stereotyped toys in the second year. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 25, 7–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Serbin, L. A., & Sprafkin, C. (1986). The salience of gender and the process of sex-typing in three- to seven-year-old children. Child Development, 57, 1188–1199.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Silver, N. C., & Ferrante, R. (1995). Sex differences in color preferences among an elderly sample. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 80, 920–922.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Slaby, R. G., & Frey, K. S. (1975). Development of gender constancy and selective attention to same-sex models. Child Development, 46, 849–856.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Smetana, J. G., & Letourneau, K. J. (1984). Development of gender constancy and children’s sex-typed free play behavior. Developmental Psychology, 20, 691–696.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Snow, M. E., Jacklin, C. N., & Maccoby, E. E. (1983). Sex-of-child differences in father-child interaction at one year of age. Child Development, 54, 227–232.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Trautner, H. M., Ruble, D. N., Cyphers, L., Kirsten, B., Behrendt, R., & Hartmann, P. (2005). Rigidity and flexibility of gender stereotypes in childhood: Developmental or differential? Infant and Child Development, 14, 365–381.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Turner, P. J., & Gervai, J. (1995). A multidimensional study of gender typing in preschool children and their parents: Personality, attitudes, preferences, behavior, and cultural differences. Developmental Psychology, 31, 759–772.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Zosuls, K. M., Ruble, D. N., Tamis-LeMonda, C. S., Shrout, P. E., Bornstein, M. H., & Greulich, F. K. (2009). The acquisition of gender labels in infancy: Implications for gender-typed play. Developmental Psychology, 45, 688–701.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Wang I. Wong.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Wong, W.I., Hines, M. Preferences for Pink and Blue: The Development of Color Preferences as a Distinct Gender-Typed Behavior in Toddlers. Arch Sex Behav 44, 1243–1254 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-015-0489-1

Download citation

Keywords

  • Gender-typing
  • Gender development
  • Color preferences
  • Toy and activity preferences
  • Sociocognitive influences