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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 May 2005, 21:56 GMT 22:56 UK
Babies 'have favourite colours'
By Michelle Roberts
Health reporter, BBC News

Baby playing with colourful mobile
Babies like bright colours rather than browns
Growing research shows that babies as young as four months show a preference for certain colours.

Dr Anna Franklin, from the Surrey Baby Lab, has studied more than 250 babies to look at which colours they prefer.

"It's a myth that newborn babies are colour-blind. They can see colour, but it does develop over the coming months."

She has used a number of tests to find out how babies see colours and which are their favourites.

One involves repeatedly showing babies the same colour on a computer screen, then switching to a different colour and seeing whether this grabs their attention.

Colour vision

Another way is to use a special camera, originally designed to test RAF pilots, to track the babies' eye movements and see which of two colours in front of them they look at the most.

"What we have shown is if you repeatedly show babies a blue then another shade of blue, they will treat it the same and get bored.

Some babies show a striking preference for just one colour
Dr Anna Franklin from the Surrey Baby Lab

"But if you show them a green, they will perk up and start looking again.

"That shows babies are aware that blues fall into the same category of colour," she said.

When colours are presented in pairs, babies tend to look for the longest amount of time at blue, red, purple and orange and the shortest amount of time at brown, Dr Franklin has found.

Babies are also less likely to look at brown first when paired with the other colours, suggesting this is their least favourite colour.

Image of teletubbies
Children are exposed to many colours in their environment

"Some babies show a striking preference for just one colour, while others will like a few colours.

"But these particular findings are only preliminary, on about 30 babies aged between four and nine months. We are collecting more data," she said.

She plans to find out what it is about the colours exactly that makes them attractive.

"Is it how much light there is in it or the strength or saturation of the colour, or a certain part of the colour spectrum that they are more tuned in to?"

Pink for girls, blue for boys?

In theory, if parents know what colour their baby likes best, they could paint the nursery and buy toys and clothes in that colour, she said.

"But my hunch would be that it is best to expose babies to a whole range of colours for their development," she said.

She also wants to determine whether a baby's colour preference changes with age and whether the stereotype that little girls prefer pink and little boys blue is true.

Dr Nicola Pitchford, in Nottingham, and her colleague Prof Kathy Mullen at McGill University, Canada, have been looking at toddlers' colour preferences.

Their work at the Nottingham Toddler Lab has found that toddlers learn to name the colours they like before the colours they dislike.

Dr Pitchford said children begin to understand and name colours at around three years of age and that some colours are learned earlier than others.

"These tend to be the ones like the most. Whereas the colours brown and grey, which children tend to like the least, are typically the last ones that they learn to name."

She wondered whether this might be because books and toys aimed at preschool children tend to use and name primary colours.

Culture differences

"We found brown and grey are terms that are used less frequently by parents and children's literature and TV.

"But primary colours are mentioned more often than secondary colours pink, orange and purple, yet children seem to learn these equally quickly, so there must also be something else going on," she said.

She has also looked at whether cultural differences might be important. She tested 24 Chinese and 24 English children aged between three and five on their colour preferences.

Both cultures showed similar likes in that they preferred highly saturated, richer colours than desaturated colours of the same hue.

One might have expected the Chinese children to prefer red because of this colour's good luck connotations. But this was not the case.

And it wasn't down to linguistic ability. Again, one might expect children would name more complex words such as yellow later than simpler ones such as red, for example. But this did not appear to be the case.

Dr Pitchford said there might be some evolutionary reason why brown and grey in particular are less attractive.

"Brown might mean dirt, and a grey rather than a rosy face suggests sickness, for example."




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