Sex Roles

, Volume 79, Issue 5–6, pp 260–272 | Cite as

Gender Labels on Gender-Neutral Colors: Do they Affect Children’s Color Preferences and Play Performance?

  • Sui Ping Yeung
  • Wang Ivy WongEmail author
Original Article


Gender-typed color preferences are widely documented, and there has been increasing concern that they affect children’s play preferences. However, it is unclear whether such color preferences exist across cultures, how they have emerged, and how gender color-coding affects performance. Chinese preschoolers (n = 126) aged 59 to 94 months were tested. First, we assessed their gender-typed color preferences using forced-choice tasks with color cards and pictures of neutral toys in gender-typed colors. Second, we tested if gender labels could affect color preferences by labeling two gender-neutral colors as gender-typed and assessed children’s liking for them using a rating task and a forced-choice task with pictures of neutral toys in the labeled colors. Third, we assigned children a tangram puzzle (i.e., a puzzle using geometric pieces) painted either in the gender-appropriate or gender-inappropriate color and measured the number of pieces they completed and their speed. Results showed that Chinese children exhibited the same gender-typed color preferences as Western children did. Moreover, applying gender labels amplified a gender difference in color preferences, thus providing direct and strong evidence for the social-cognitive pathway underlying gender-typed preferences. Finally, color-coding as gender-appropriate or -inappropriate had no impact on performance but the gender labels improved boys’ performance. These results add to knowledge on how gender-related information affects children’s responses to the social world and suggest that the current gender color divide should be reconsidered.


Gender labels Gender color-coding Color preferences Play performance Gender differences 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

This project was approved by the Psychology Departmental Research Ethics Committee at the University of Hong Kong. All children participated with the written consent of their parent. Children’s verbal assent was also obtained prior to the experiment.

Supplementary material

11199_2017_875_MOESM1_ESM.docx (384 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 384 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe University of Hong KongHong KongPeople’s Republic of China

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