Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

The Impact of Color on Ratings of "Girl" and "Boy" Toys

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

The Impact of Color on Ratings of "Girl" and "Boy" Toys

Article excerpt

As young as three years of age, children can apply common gender stereotypes in "correctly" identifying toys that are for girls and for boys (Freeman, 2007). Toy preferences in children largely follow gender stereotypes, with boys preferring "boy toys" and girls, to a lesser extent, preferring "girl toys," and with both boys and girls showing stronger preferences for "boy toys" as they get older (Etaugh & Liss, 1990). According to gender-schema theorists, these preferences come about because children learn to apply their observations about the social behavior of others to themselves (for instance, "I see that girls play with this toy and boys don't, so it must be a girl toy. I am a girl, so this toy is for me."). Further, because gender-dimorphic schemata are more rigid for boys, there is typically more variability in gender-typed behavior in girls. That is, it is more acceptable for girls to play with "boy toys" than for boys to play with "girl toys." (Chui, Gervan, Fairbrother, Johnson, Owen-Anderson, Bradley, & Zucker, 2006).

Another possibility is that the environments created for children are highly gender-specific, giving boys and girls very different exposure to toys and to colors. Pomerleau, Boldue, Malcuit, and Cossette (1990) visited the homes of children aged five months through 40 months and found marked differences in the bedrooms of boys and girls. Girls had more symbolic toys that could be manipulated and used to imitate adult activities (handbags, doll houses, and vacuum cleaners), and more dolls, fictional characters, and child-sized furniture. Boys had more sports equipment, tools, and large and small vehicles. Girls' clothing and bedding were more likely to be pink, yellow, and multicolored, while boys' clothing and bedding were more likely to be blue, red, and white.

With respect to the importance of color in children's toy preferences, Cherney, Harper, and Winter (2006) found that preschoolers, when asked to explain their toy preferences, appear to classify toys based on gender association (that is, based on the sex of the child shown playing with the toy on the packaging) and egocentric thinking (for example, "I like that toy and I am a girl, so that toy is for girls."), rather than on color. In their study, color appeared to play a role only in classifying toys that were not already clearly identified as associated with boys or with girls (for example, Play-Doh[R]). Gray, green, and black were seen as masculine colors; pink and purple as feminine colors; and yellow, white, orange, and red as for either sex. Presumably, then, when Play-Doh[R] is pink or purple, it is for girls; when it is green or gray, it is for boys; and when it is yellow or red, it is for either sex.

Other studies specifically investigating the role of color in gender stereotyping show strong gender-dimorphic results. When presented with a stylized drawing of a cat (presumably gender-neutral) wearing either a pink, blue, or yellow bow tie, and asked whether the cat was a boy or a girl, every child in one study thought that the cat with the pink tie was a girl and the cat with the blue tie was a boy. Almost three-quarters of the children also thought the cat with the yellow tie was a girl (Henshaw, Kelly, & Gratton, 1992). When asked to classify pictures of colored pigs as girls or boys, preschoolers classified navy blue, brown, and maroon pigs as boys and light pink, bright pink, and lavender pigs as girls, color assignments that were consistent with those of adult raters. In a separate study, boy dolls and girl dolls dressed in pink or blue were assigned attributes based on the color of their clothing. For example, boy dolls wearing pink were seen as being gentle and identifying with a teacher and girl dolls wearing blue were seen as identifying with a firefighter and using a tool set. However, a third study showed that sex of the character was a stronger determinant than color in children's prediction of preferences and activities (Picariello, Greenberg, & Pillemer, 1990), suggesting that sex can override color in the assignment of gender-related characteristics. …

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