Blue and Pink Affect Our Perception of Others

As part of a guest lecture/workshop I gave today on the power of words, I did an experiment. (If I remember correctly, I read about this experiment in Delusions of Gender that I have often talked about on this blog.) 

There were 18 students. I sent nine students out in the hall where they could not see what we are doing. I asked the students to take out a sheet of paper and to be prepared to write down as many words as they could that described the personalities of the babies of the screen. They saw the following cluster of images on the large screen:  

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 11.42.22 PM

When they were finished,  I collected their papers, asked them to remain silent, and then I brought the other group in. They received the same directions, but saw the following cluster of images:

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 11.44.17 PMThe hypothesis is that students will unconsciously describe the babies in blue with more positive and/or more stereotypically masculine words and the babies in pink with more negative and/or stereotypically feminine words. When putting this together, I couldn’t find images that were exactly identically. I’ll keep looking. But given this one limitation of the study, the results pretty much match the hypothesis.

Directly below is the WordCloud for the group that saw the babies in blue. This group had nine people. They collectively wrote 42 words, 29 of these being unique. Very few negative words appeared. 

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 11.16.56 PM

Directly below is the WordCloud for the group that saw the babies in pink. This group had nine people. They collectively wrote 38 words, 23 of these being unique. There were still a number of words related to happiness, but far less related to themes of thinking. 

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 11.19.43 PM

What do you think?!

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda

Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

Tags: , ,

8 replies

  1. I guess I’ll think twice before wearing that pink dress. 🙂

    Next time mix the colors together. In one set of three the pink is in the middle, flanked by two blues.. in the second set of three the blue is in the middle flanked by two pinks..
    What might happen is that the odd color middle one will be the one the subjects will identify with by gender color interpretation, and the personality words might take on a different meaning from your first test, which verified personality traits based on color/gender roles. I would guess my suggested variant test will force the subject to respond with personality words reflecting only the middle color.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great idea Doug! Great experiment Dr. Pegoda! How about using photos of adults with obvious (and less obvious) racial differences? They use this technique as faces associated with words in psychological surveys where the subject must choose a “good” or “bad” label associated with the face, and do it quickly. It shows up your very subliminal preferences and biases. Although very blatently biased attitudes may be present in home life, that can turn a child to have the exact opposite attitude too. A very important point to make to students is that they cannot become totally unbiased. You can’t help but have your subliminal biases because they are based upon very subtle differences in the home environment. But becoming aware that you have them helps you create more sensitivity to others who display bias. They can become sensitive to at least some kind of bias where they actively try to help the victim heal, either in small, minor ways or very active intervention. They can show by example that they are aware of the bias the victim has experienced, creating a “solidarity” with them. You might present hypothetical situations where a student might detect subtle or blatant bias and ask them how they can help to undo the effects of that bias, with both victim and perpetrator. That is the whole purpose of higher ed, to recognize the nuances and develop nuanced reactions.

    By the way, the term I first heard the word cloud called was “Wordle.” There are numerous free apps online to create them, and I found a few where you can create a specific shape into which the app fits the words, where the original Wordle program could not do this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Bias” is a close cousin to “stereotype”… and some even like to draw a line from stereotype to racism, as it relates to human identity. Actually, all that is simply a human trait for survival; yet another of those human traits that political correctness wants us to constantly fight against… like sexual urges and other forms of impure thought. You are correct, I think, when you say we are never unbiased… but it’s more an evolved condition of natural instinct; the traditional nature vs. nurture that provides human diversity.
      The police use a variation of your test. Those pop-up targets on the shooting range that show images of people.. and the officer must decide which is the threat to determine an instant response. It forces the officer to break down the personal racial stereotypes.
      I like your process. Never heard of “wordle” before.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks so much! I’ll have to do a version that looks at racialized differences sometime! Here’s a blog I did a while back with a “shaped” word cloud. Those word clouds are fun to play with:

      I’ve taken a number of those implicit test – to me, they seem to test computer skills more than anything, but I do always tell my students that we’re all racist, homophobic, classist, etc because that’s how our society is.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Having participated in and observed the experiment described, I can validate and confirm what Dr. Pegoda has written.

    Liked by 1 person


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