Color Preference and Gender Research


Review of Literature

Dissemination of Research

Technology Issues and Decisions

Phase I: Color Preference Test

Phase II: Shades of Difference

Phase III: Website Preferences

Phase IV: Alternative Presentations of Identical Content




Bernard, Michael. (2001). Optimal web design: Criteria for optimal web design (designing for usability).Available:  Last accessed: 4/21/03.

            While mostly dealing with font type and size, the effect of background textures and colors as factors of readability are examined.  It is also noted that approximately 8% of males and 0.5% of females have some type of color deficit.  A section on international web design includes information on color meanings in different cultures and the degree to which traditional masculine roles of assertiveness and competition are emphasized by color usage and by web design.  For instance, in Japan and the United States, red indicates danger or anger; but in India, it means life and creativity. If a country supports traditional masculine roles, then the emphasis on gender roles is important. An extensive bibliography is provided.

Chattapadhyay, Amitava; Gorn, Gerald, & Darke, Peter. (2000). East, west, blue is best. Available: Last accessed: 4/21/03.

            In a series of market research studies, blue was found to be the best-liked color across cultures.  Results also showed that there was far greater homogeneity in hue preference across countries and gender than thought.  The studies also showed that higher chroma (more saturated) colors are preferred but that there is also a preference towards whiteness in colors, perhaps for the calming effect.  Subjects from Hong Kong and Canada were used in this study.  In choice of wrapping paper color, the occasion for the gift did play a part in selection of color, showing that the knowledge of convention influenced response.  The results from the study suggest that there is “far greater opportunity for standardization in the usage of color globally” than originally thought.

Conroy-Liebman, M. (1992). The Antecedent Color Choice Model: An Examination of Emotional Responses to Color Stimuli and Predictors of Preference Formation.  Dissertation. Drexel University.

            This dissertation examined the effects of emotional responses to product specific color stimuli and assessed the relationships of these responses to product color preference formation.  Actual product specific color stimuli were used in a “full factorial experimental design” with social class held constant for a balanced sample of males and females.  Study results indicate that males and females exhibit distinctly different emotional responses to product specific color stimuli, but the results were not consistent across product categories.  Emotional color responses are related to individual’s color preferences even when gender differences are not evident.  The researchers conclude that emotional components should be examined when studying color preferences.

Dolsky, Stephanie. (1993).  Adult Preferences for Combinations of Colors Used in the Design of Computer Displays. Masters Thesis. University of Alberta (Canada).

            The purpose of the study was to investigate adult preferences for four colors presented on a computer display using gray background with subjects rating their preference for combinations of four colors using a base of eight colors: red, orange, yellow, blue, green, purple, magenta, and black.  According to ANOVA analysis, the preferred color combinations were blue, red, purple, black; purple, magenta, black, yellow; and purple, blue, black, magenta.  The least preferred combinations were orange, magenta, green, red; black, green, yellow, blue; and yellow, magenta, green, red.  Gender and age showed no significant difference in results. The study determines that adults have distinct preferences for combinations of color as presented on a computer display.

Dorothy Shamonsky. (1999). The Influence of Computer Interface Aesthetics on Positive Affect in Users. Last accessed: 4/21/03.

           Different people, by how they express themselves, have apparently varying degrees of sensitivity to aesthetics. Some people were very enthusiastic about the aesthetic difference in the testing and some were unfazed. It might be informative to test different groups who express these different appreciation levels (computer programmers and architects for instance) to see if the difference carries over into the scoring. It might address the question, is aesthetic appreciation embedded in human nature, even with those that are not consciously aware of it?

 Fischler, Karen. (1998). Kids talk back. Adobe Magazine Summer, 41-45. 

            Brief discussion of what kids like in web design: bright colors, interactivity, small files with short downloads. No specifics on color preferences are given.

Hotzschlag, Molly. (2000). Color my World. Available:  Last accessed: 4/21/03.

            The use of color in a worldwide context is an element of web design that is often misunderstood or overlooked.  Perception of color depends not only on the ability to see that color, but also on the interpretive context of emotional and cultural realities.  Blue is the most globally accessible and safe color, perhaps because of its relationship to the sky and therefore, to deities.  For some colors, cultural significance makes them more risky.  For example, while pink is popular with both sexes in Japan, in East Indian and American cultures, pink signifies femininity.  Purple and red are also colors with significant cultural meaning differences.  Another important issue is that men and women’s reactions to color differ significantly.  Web designers need to think carefully about what the colors they choose could be saying to their chosen audience.

Khouw, Natalia. (1995). The meaning of color for gender. Available:  Last accessed: 4/21/03.

             Khouw reviews the research of gender differences in the response to color.  Using slides of interior environments with different color palettes and a list of words describing the characteristics of these environments, Khouw’s analysis showed color response to be influenced by gender differences, especially in regard to combinations of color properties such as hue, value, and chroma.  Rooms with high chromatic relationships were rated higher by men than by women and in general, men were more tolerant of the use of either chromatic or achromatic colors in interiors.  An extensive review of literature of early color research is also included.

Lee, Seonsu & Barnes, James H. Jr. (1989/1990). Using color preferences in magazine Advertising. Journal of Advertising Research (December/January), 25-30.

            Color is widely used in advertising to influence emotional behavior, and each color has a certain psychological effect on human beings.  Using previous research, especially that of Luckiesh (1927), the researchers hypothesize that advertising using blues will appeal more to men and red will appeal more to women.  Also, using research by Petterson (1982), they hypothesize that color preference is also impacted by race.  Stating their hypotheses as null hypotheses, the researchers test their conjectures by using four types of magazines, those published for Whites, Afro-Americans, men, and women.  Content analysis of the ads and the colors used formed the methodology.  The researchers find that there are definite differences in the colors of advertising in magazines for the two races but not between male and female oriented magazines.  Their research also seems to indicate that color is not being used to improve advertising response among targeted consumers.  The recommend more research into gender and racial color preferences.

Marcus, Aaron & Gould, Emilie. (2000). Cultural dimensions and global web user-interface design: What? So what? Now what? Paper presented at the Sicth Conference on Human Factors and the Web, 19 June 2000, Austin, TX.

            This article uses the classic study by Geert Hofstede of cultures in organizations and considers how they might affect user-interface design. Hofstede  identifies femininity and masculinity as one of five dimensions of culture. Pertinent points examine cultural differences in regard to color meaning and masculinity/femininity as gender roles.  He identifies countries with a strongly masculine culture and discusses websites that fit into both roles.  Japan and Austria are considered countries with strongly masculine cultures while Sweden is the least masculine.  No specific color recommendations are made although the importance of color is mentioned. (2001). All that Glitters Is Not Sold. Available: Last accessed: 4/21/03.

            Highlights from Lee Eiseman’s keynote address at the 2001 International House-wares Show provides information on today’s most popular colors.  For instance, orange is very popular in the European marketplace, but not as popular in the United States while yellow is almost universally happy and upbeat.  Blue is regarded as the number one consumer favorite.  Consumers base their purchases on a number of factors and color is one of the most important of these factors.  Eiseman also categorizes colors as traditional, nurturing, tranquil, contemplative, whimsical, sensual, casual, and eclectic, all of which give different messages to the consumer.

Micro Academy. (1998). Color Preference.  Available:  Last accessed: 4/21/03.

            In summarizing some early tests of color preferences conducted since the early 20th century in regard to gender preference, early research on children found little difference in the preferences of boys and girls.  Tests conducted by S.J. Warner in the 1940’s showed that females preferred pastel colors, pale and subdued mid-tones, and warm rather than cool and deep shades.  Males in the survey preferred brilliant hue tints, light full colors, and cool rather than warm and greyed shades.  The color preference theories of German scientist Max Luscher were also discussed.  The extensive bibliography only includes research conducted prior to 1971 and the value of the article is primarily in the summarization of previous research.

Milne, Lisa & Greenway, Philip. (1999). Color in children’s drawings: The influence of age and gender. The arts in psychotherapy 26(4), 261-263.       

            The hypothesis of this study was that males and females differ in their use of color in drawings.  The results showed that for females, the use of color did not vary significantly across the age groups, but that for males there was a significant difference in the use of color across age groups with males under 10.63 years tending to use color and males over that age tending not to use colors.  These results suggest that males develop emotional inhibitions just prior to puberty while the emotional expression for females remains constant.

Morton, Jill. (1998). Color, the chameleon of the web. Available: Last accessed: 4/21/03.

            Views the problems of accurate color representation caused by both operating systems and monitors and discusses the use of color as a communicator, especially in its symbolic representation.  Also stresses that when color and form are combined, the symbolic power is increased.  For example, in China a green hat signals that a man’s wife is cheating on him and in Japan, white carnations signify death.  As a result, colors have the capacity to “mutate both technically and symbolically” on the web.

Pantone. (1999). Results of the Roper/Pantone Consumer Color Preference study. Available: Assessed: 11/08/01.

            The Roper/Pantone Consumer Color Preference study reveals that blue is the country’s most popular color with 35% choosing it, although the hues were different for men and women.  Green was the second most popular color with purple third.  Red is viewed as the most exciting color and black as the most mysterious.  The study also examined color preferences in clothing and the home.

Passig, David & Levin, Haya. (1999). Gender interest differences with multimedia learning interfaces. Computers in Human Behavior 15, 173-183.

            In a study using kindergarten students, researchers found some marked gender differences in learning interests of different designs of multimedia interfaces. The males spent more time on task and looked for navigational buttons.  Female subjects were more likely to ask for help and preferred games that included writing.  The males preferred green and blues but were more interested in the movement of the game while girls preferred reds and yellows and were more interested in colorful screen filled with drawings.

Picariello, Martha; Greenberg, Danna; & Pillemer, David. (1990). Children’s sex-related stereotyping of colors. Child Development 61, 1453-1460.

            A series of four studies examines children’s sex-related stereotyping of colors.  In the first study, the children were given stuffed animals of different colors and asked to determine the sex of the animals.  Their responses were consistent with adult color stereotypes.  The second study involved color of clothing and both determining the sex of a child due to the color of the clothes and the impressions about a child because of the color of the clothes when the sex of the child was known. The last two studies found that color stereotyping was mild when compared to stereotyping based directly on sex.  Color stereotyping did not show any regular age-related increase that was characteristic of sex-role stereotyping.

Scharff, Lauren & Hill, Alyson. (1999). Readability of websites with various foreground/background color combinations, font types and word styles. Engineering Psychology and Cognitive Ergonomics. 4, 123-130.

            While no findings on gender color preferences are presented, the research into readability of websites in regard to color combinations, background texture, and font size contributed to developing the research questionnaire, especially in the summary of research on color and web design.

Singh, Vaishali. (2000). Color design for the web. Available: Last accessed: 4/21/03.

            Brief discussion of elements of web design in regard to use of colors.  Section on gender quotes article by Natalie Khouw.  Other sections include use of colors to determine site’s mood and personality, use of color to set an identity, color in context with emotional and cultural realities, juxtaposition of colors, natural associations of colors, and use of white.


Project C.O.P.E.: Content, Organization, Preference, Evaluation
Principal Investigator: Kay E. V. Vandergrift, Professor
Research Team: Janet Hilbun, Ph.D. Student and Graduate Assistant; Lin Lin, Ph.D. Student and Teaching Assistant; Alex Daley, Manager, Information Technology Services; Jane Anne Hannigan, Professor Emerita, Columbia University, Consultant (Members of the team conducting the actual research have passed the Human Subjects Certification Program)
Photography: Lin Lin
School of Communication, Information and Library Studies, SCILS - Rutgers University