In 1993, crayon manufacturer Crayola asked American children to name their favorite crayon color.
Most chose different shades of blue.
After seven years, the firm repeated its experiment.
Again, seven shades of blue appeared in the top 10. There were also purple, green and pink.
The predominance of blue is not surprising to Lauren Labrecque, a professor at the University of Rhode Island, USA, who studies the effect of color on marketing.
She often asks her students to name their favorite color. After they answer, she shows her presentation.
” I already have a slide ready that says ‘80% of you said blue ,'” says Labrecque.
And he is usually right.
“Once we become adults, we all like blue. And it seems to be cross-cultural,” he says. Interestingly though, Japan is one of the few countries where people classify white among their three main colors.
What do the studies say?
Having a favorite color is something that tends to emerge in childhood.
Ask any child what theirs is and most, crayon in hand, will be ready to answer.
The truth is that the more time children spend in the world, the more they begin to develop affinities with certain colors, depending on what they have been exposed to and what they associate with it.
They are more likely to associate bright colors like orange, yellow, purple, or pink with positive emotions.
A study of 330 children between the ages of 4 and 11 found that they used their favorite colors when drawing a “nice” character and tended to use black with an “unpleasant” one.
Needless to say, other studies found no such links because emotional associations and color are far from straightforward.
It’s said that as children enter their teens, their color choices take on a darker , more somber hue , but there isn’t much academic research to back this up.
These color palettes seem to converge as people age. Interestingly, while most adults say they prefer blue colors, they also agree on their least favorite color: a dark, yellowish brown.
Why do we have favorite colors?
Basically, we have favorite colors because we have favorite things.
At least that is the gist of ecological valence theory , an idea proposed by Karen Schloss, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US.
The colors are far from neutral . Rather, humans attach meaning to them, mostly because of the subjective stories, and thus create personal reasons for finding a tone repellent or attractive.
“This explains why different people have different preferences for the same color and why their preference for a given color can change over time,” says Schloss.
In one of the experiments, colored squares were shown on a screen and the volunteers were asked to rate how much they liked them.
Then the colors were shown again, except this time, instead of squares, they were objects.
Yellow and bluish images were used with neutral objects, such as staplers or a screwdriver.
The red and green photos were deliberately skewed. Half of the participants saw red images that evoked positive memories, such as strawberries or roses on Valentine’s Day, while green ones were designed to disgust, such as slime or debris in a pond.
The other half saw reverse associations: raw red wounds and green or kiwi hills.
With these images there was a change in color preference. The volunteers’ choices went toward any color that was positively emphasized, while there was little diminution for the negative hue.
The next day, the test was repeated, and the change induced in the experiment appears to have been canceled out by the colors the participants experienced in the real world.
“This tells us that our experiences with the world constantly influence the way we see and interpret it,” says Schloss.
“Think of color preferences as a summary of your everyday, habitual experiences with that color ,” he adds.
the reign of blue
The preference for blue has continued without interruption since the first recorded color studies in the 19th century.
And most of our experience with color is likely to be positive, like idyllic oceans or clear skies.
Along the same lines, the research also offers a clue as to why that brown color is the least popular as it is associated with biological waste or decaying food.
Blue for boys and pink for girls
Experimental psychologist Domicele Jonauskaite studies the cognitive and affective connotations of color at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and observed how little ones see blue and pink.
Girls’ love of pink forms peaks around the age of 5 or 6, and disappears by the time they are teenagers.
“But children avoid pink from at least 5 years old. They think ‘I can like any color, but not pink’ . It is rebellious for a child to like pink,” he says.
“And among grown men it’s hard to find someone who says, ‘pink is my favorite.'”
Some researchers in the past have suggested that this gender-anchored color preference is evolutionary: women, who were the foragers in hunting societies, had a preference for colors associated with berries.
That’s complete nonsense, says Jonauskaite, who cites several recent papers looking at color preference in non-globalized cultures, such as villages in the Peruvian Amazon and a group of peasant farmers in northern Republic of Congo in which no girls showed preference for pink.
“To have this preference, or dislike, you need to have a social identity coding, ” he analyzes.
In fact, pink was considered a stereotypical masculine color before the 1920s and only became associated with girls in the mid-20th century.
And who doesn’t like blue?
Those drawn to unpopular hues may be because they have positive childhood memories, such as 1970s babies snuggling on brown sofas, says Alice Skelton of the Sussex Color Group & Baby Lab at the University of Sussex in New York. United Kingdom.
But there is another possibility.
“It could be that while some are trying to achieve homeostasis, others are sensation seekers,” he says.
“Think of artists, whose main job is to look for things that challenge their visual system or aesthetic preference.”
They are the ones who, without a doubt, will not choose the blue crayon.