Updated: Feb 18, 2022
The world is made up of an abundance of colors, and when asked, most people could identify their favorite color; however, children typically feel the most connected to their favorite color than any other age group. While many may believe that choosing a favorite color is purely based on what shade is most appealing to each person’s eye, more factors can contribute to determining why a child prefers one color over another. Children’s color preference is heavily developed from childhood interactions and environments.
Color associations developed at a young age can play a role in determining a child’s preferred color palate. People tend to like the colors that they associate with positive items in their lives. R. Douglas Fields, Ph.D., a neuroscientist working at the University of Maryland, completed a study where he found that color association was closely related to color preference; after Fields asked people to rate specific objects and colors, the objects with the highest appeal ranked alongside their corresponding colors. For children, developing a positive color association could begin very early. In childhood, many parents gift their newborns with a special stuffed animal or blanket. As that person enters early to middle childhood, they may grow to prefer the colors that made up the gift from their parents. To illustrate, a special green blanket given to a newborn after birth may cause the child to learn to prefer green over other colors as it reminds them of warmth from their parents when they were born. Developing connotations behind colors causes children to have preferences for colors based on specific objects.
While color preferences often grow from associations with color, a child’s culture can also impact their color preferences. Since colors are viewed differently around the world, the appeal of a color may be greater in one area over another. According to Miho Saito, a researcher and professor of cognitive sciences at Waseda University, white is a more preferred color amongst Asian countries such as Japan, China, Korea, and Indonesia than other countries. After Saito surveyed various countries including the U.S., Germany, South Africa, and others about their top three favorite colors, she concludes that white was most commonly chosen only in Asian countries, and white ranked lower in the rest of the world. Saito explains that these countries prefer these colors as they are considered “clean,” “pure,” or “elegant,” while other cultures that did not favor white claimed the color was “too simple” or brings feelings of emptiness. As color perception changes between cultures, a certain color could spark joy in one part of the world and convey misfortune to someone across an ocean.
In addition to object association and culture, gender stereotypes can cause children to prefer one color over another. When children are born, many parents choose to dress their kids in blue if they are male and pink if they are female to help others differentiate between their gender. This action can lead to children gaining preference for their gender-stereotyped color, as found in a study performed by Rachel Karniol, a professor of social development at Tel Aviv University. Karniol studied preschoolers and third graders by asking them to color a coloring book with any colors they wished. The professor found that the girls used a larger variety of colors but tended to use female-stereotyped colors such as pinks and purples when coloring their book. However, the “boys [were] less flexible in their use of color,” Karniol reports, “largely avoiding colors that [were] not stereotypically associated with males.” These children used color as a way to express themselves and their gender identity. At a younger age, children may prefer a color that is aligned with their gender-stereotype to fit the standard that they may have been taught to abide by.
Early interactions and surroundings can cause a child to develop color preferences. If a child is infatuated with a special green blanket that reminds them of comfort, they may grow to prefer green as they age. They also may prefer colors that are positive in their culture, such as one that signifies love or warmth. Color preferences may also spark from being taught gender stereotypes at a young age, causing young boys to gear towards blues and greens, and young girls to gear towards pinks and purples. While color preferences may continue to develop and evolve with a person as they age, foundational color preferences spark as a person experiences their childhood.
Fields, R. Douglas. “Why We Prefer Certain Colors.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 1 Apr 2011, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-new-brain/201104/why-we-prefer-certain-colors. Accessed 17 Oct. 2019.
Karniol, Rachel. “The Color of Children’s Gender Stereotypes.” Springer, Springer Science+Business Media, 11 May 2011, PDF. Accessed 17 Oct. 2019.
Saito, Miho. “Comparative (Cross-cultural) Color Preference and Its Structure.” Encyclopedia of Color Science and Technology, Springer Science+Business Media, http://imbs.uci.edu/~kjameson/ECST/Saito_ComparativeCrossCulturalColorPreferenceAndItsStructure.pdf. Accessed 17 Oct. 2019.