Monday, October 10, 2011

Why do we teach kids the color pink?

For some reason, the color pink is considered a basic color.

We learn about it from birth from board books.

But why? What makes it so special.
If you think about it, it's not a basic color.

Red, yellow, and blue are our three primary colors.
They're the building blocks of color. Gotta have 'em.

Every other color is made from these guys.

If we combine two of them, we get secondary colors.
Those would be green, orange, and purple.

If we combine all three, we get brown.

And to round it all out, we add black and white. The presence of all color, and the absence of color.

But pink?

Pink is simply light red.
Red + white.

We don't talk about light blue, or light yellow.

In fact, without consulting a box of crayons, I'm don't know what else to call light blue and light yellow.
But pink isn't light red, it's pink and we all know it.

But why?


qurgh lungqIj said...

What is a "basic color"? All color is just different wavelengths of light. There are no "basic colors" in reality, only colors.

In pigment science there are "primary colors" which can be combined to create other color pigments, but that's only relevant when you're using pigments, it doesn't work for light (the pigments are created to reflect/absorb certain colors of light). The true building block of color is white light, as white light contains all the colors we can detect.

Black is actually the absence of light, not the presence of all color; while white is the presence of all colors. You can prove this with a prism and a ray of white light (sunlight works best or white LEDs). The white light will breakup into a complete spectrum, which includes every shade of pink.

Pink isn't simply light red, it's a specific shade and hue of light. There also isn't "light red", "light yellow" and "light blue". These are generic terms that simply describe the color, but aren't their true names. Wikipedia has a good list of names if you want to teach the names of colors (wish I had this as a kid):

As for why Pink is a common color taught to children.... it's a cultural thing (IMO). Pink is the color we have chosen for love and girls. It's a common color, so we know it's name and we share this. If Cobolt or Stizza was the color of happiness, then we'd all be familiar with them.

roneyii said...

When teaching children, we tend to keep things simple.
Telling a 2yo that his truck is in reality every color but red, and that it's reflecting the red light back to his eyes is a bit much.
We also tend to teach with the pigment terms and not the light terms.

"Basic colors" would be simple colors that we generally teach children. We also teach them to adults when learning a new language.
Or the purist form/best representation of a primary, secondary, or tertiary color.

Tints and shades come later.

Your comment about it being a cultural thing is spot on.
I've read tons of "my first colors" books over the past 5 years, and grey and pink are the only tints/shades that are ever brought up.

It just stuck out to me the other day that it was unique. Which it is.

Wikipedia has this to say on pink and gender:

"In Western culture, the practice of assigning pink to an individual gender began in the 1920s or earlier. An article in the trade publication Earnshaw's Infants' Department in June 1918 said: "The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl." From then until the 1940s, pink was considered appropriate for boys because being related to red it was the more masculine and decided color, while blue was considered appropriate for girls because it was the more delicate and dainty color, or related to the Virgin Mary. Since the 1940s, the societal norm was inverted; pink became considered appropriate for girls and blue appropriate for boys, a practice that has continued into the 21st century" "

It'd be interesting to study other cultures to find out what colors they teach first.