What happens to kids’ brains when they only see pink?

Creativity is not icing on the cake. It is the cake.

Artists have a false reputation of being neurotic, pessimistic, and depressed. But artists, if they are depressed, create in spite, not because of depression. I wrote a blog about this controversial view presented in the book Against Depression by Peter Kramer. His whole theory is basically this: Creating consistently requires a sense of optimism. You’ve got to believe there is a way to tell your story or paint your picture. It makes sense. You’ve got to be resilient. Your plot is going to fall apart hundreds of times, and you’ve got to figure out a way to put it all together and make it work.

Besides Kramer’s book, I’ve learned elsewhere that creativity is essential for mental health. I’ve taken classes on forgiveness and anger management and both teach the same skill: story-telling. According to Fred Luskin of Stanford University, there are 3 steps to creating and holding a grudge:

(1) You take something too personally

(2) You blame someone else for how bad you feel

(3) You create a grievance story.

The grievance story is something that you, the “victim,” repeat over and over in your head. The way to forgive, to move on, is to tell a new story where you are the hero.

In anger management, you learn the same thing. The feeling of anger lasts 90 seconds. 90 seconds. Please check out this amazing video about the teen brain where Neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor says the same thing. So what keeps the anger going for hours, days, years, a lifetime? The story you tell yourself about the event. That is where you can intercede and step in. Change the story. Become the hero, not the victim.

To do all this, you need to be creative.

What made me think about this today (not that I don’t every day) is a New York Times post headlined Marketing to Children Drowns Out Innovation.

Creativity — our ability to invent, conjure, envision, think divergently, and change the status quo — is essential to a thriving democracy and is rooted in children’s creative play.

On the Huffington Post, Lori Day writes:

I was talking to a teacher friend recently who said that 10 or 15 years ago, if she asked her Kindergarten class what their favorite colors were, she heard many different answers. Now, she still hears the boys name many different colors, but the girls almost all say pink…

Doesn’t that suck? A classroom of girls and all the colors in the world, and this is what they say? What are the longterm affects of groupthink in little kids?

I keep asking on Reel Girl: Why do parents put up with the gender stereotypes marketed to little kids? At least with “progressive,” urban parents, those in my world, I think a major reason is that they believe it’s just a phase, so harmless. Kids will grow out of loving pink or loving princesses. But kids who learn groupthink instead of creativity will have a harder time thinking independently. And I mean really independently, not reactively, which is just another form of groupthink. Again, you’ve got to watch Taylor’s teen brain video.

On developing brains, psychologist/ author Stephen Mitchell writes in one of my favorite books ever, Can Love Last?:


However, the traditional dichotomy of nature versus nurture that has dominated Western philosophy and psychology has been profoundly challenged  by recent advances in neurophysiology. The stratification model of human experience, nature versus nurture– was predicated on the assumption that human biology was  a complete package at birth…

The brain of the newborn, we now know, is only partially developed. Nerve cells and neural pathways are incomplete at birth; they are shaped to a considerable extent by the baby’s experience with others.


Mitchell is echoed by neuroscientist Lise Eliot, author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain. She writes:


“Babies are born ready to absorb the sounds, grammar, and intonation of any language, but then the brain wires it up only to perceive and produce a specific language. After puberty, its possible to learn another language but far more difficult. I think of gender differences similarly. The ones that exist become amplified by the two different cultures that boys and girls are immersed in from birth. This contributes to the way their emotional and cognitive circuits get wired.”


Both Mitchell and Eliot support the idea that humans are born into the world with “potentials.” Qualities humans are designed for can “turn on” or “emerge.”


These ideas on brain development take on the basic assumptions of Enlightenment, the driving theory behind the last century, which Mitchell summarizes as “a correct, rational, scientific, fantasy-free way to understand the world.” Mitchell summarizes the Enlightenment world view into three basic assumptions:


(1) All genuine questions have answers


(2) All true answers are discoverable and teachable to others


(3) All answers are in principle compatible


Mitchell describes reality, or realities, instead where fantasy and reality continually create each other. He writes:


It is the hallmark of the shift in basic psychoanalytic sensibility that the prototype of mental health for many contemporary psychoanalyitc authors is not the scientist but the artist. A continual objective take on reality is regarded as neither possible nor valuable in contrast to the ability to develop and move in and out of different perspectives of reality.

I’m not a scientist. I’m a writer and a mom, and I’m appalled by what people are calling “natural.” In the future, people are going to look back on this time and be mystified by what we did to little kids.






18 thoughts on “What happens to kids’ brains when they only see pink?

  1. My highly uneducated and untested theory has always been if a child sees nothing but one colour their entire life, such as pink, they would have a seizure or something if they see any other colour since their brain has been so starved of colours it can’t even process them. It simply doesn’t know what colours are. I wouldn’t be surprised if this has actually happened.

    Starving half the population of all colours not only stunts their creativity, it stunts their brain too.

    It reminds me of some kind of cult that brainwashes its members into believing there is no such thing as cars or trees or the sun and that anyone who has actually seen one is imagining it.

    • Hi NigeltheDragon,

      Agree and that’s also why I said I’m not a scientist, meaning neurobiology is not my personal expertise. Not that I trust “experts.” : )


    • Also, isn’t there some famous study about rats put in an environment where they only saw horizontal lines, and then they couldn’t recognize vertical ones?

      • I’ve never heard of that one before, But it sounds like an interesting study. I wonder what happened to the rats if they saw vertical lines?
        I know of another study where people put on glasses that turned everything upside down. After a few weeks their brains automatically flipped it right way up. When they took the glasses off everything was upside down for them again.

      • “Little girls learning to lie for social approval is a terrible lesson to learn,”

        Absolutely true, and of course, it goes way beyond saying what your favorite color is. Kids’ approval by adults is constructed almost entirely on lies, it has always been so.

        “Risking saying your truth publicly is essential not only to creating and authentic”.

        Here I disagree, important yes, but not essential, most people can’t afford such a risk and must find other, safer and healthier, ways to be true to themselves. Nobody should feel obligated to expose themselves to people’s ignorance as a necessary step in finding their authenticity.

        • Hi Aninha,

          Yes, humans are resourceful, resilient and creative. You are right that there are places in the world where human rights are at stake and women would be murdered for speaking their truth. In those cases, doing so isn’t likely to advance authenticity. A kindergarten classroom in the United States is not one of those places, though apparently, it feels that way for too many little girls.


    • Actually, if a person only ever saw one color, they wouldn`t be able to distinguish between colours once exposed to more. Kinda the same way that in countries where there is only one word for both orange and yellow, people have difficulties distinguishing between them. Our brains work with categorization. It was Wittigenstein who once said: “the limits of my language are the limits of my world.”

        • I wouldn’t go so far, really. I mean,

          “Now, she still hears the boys name many different colors, but the girls almost all say pink…”

          kids are smarter than we give them credit for, they tend to give the answers they think adults want to hear, a teacher isn’t close enough to their students that the students would be open about small things. I know that when I was a kid I knew the answer that would get me weird looks and make me stand out and the “safe”answer that made me just another generic kid.

          • I remember that, when I was a kid, I said that my favourite color was pink because that’s what girls were supposed to like. That was before I really began to hate pink because there was so many things that were pink. My parents never imposed us pink things. I played with dolls, marbles, cars… and my dolls were detectives, journalists, scientists, models and gymnasts, all at the same time, not mothers and princesses. But still, you saw that in commercials, in the toys at the school, with the other children, in books…you couldn’t escape that. If you was a girl, you have to like certain things, you have to act in a certain way, you have to be beautiful (every princess was beautiful, that was why the prince chose her in the first place. Sometimes is the only reason. The sleeping beauty is not even conscius, she do nothin and say nothing, and the prince still “love” her). Children are not stupid, they catch that kind of things, they know what is expected from them.

          • Hi Aninha,

            Even if a kid true favorite color isn’t pink, saying it is sucks. Little girls learning to lie for social approval is a terrible lesson to learn, the opposite, in fact, of what children should be learning. Risking saying your truth publicly is essential not only to creating and authentic self but creating social change.


  2. I guess we disagree here:

    “The sentence “these ideas on brain development take on the basic assumptions of Enlightenment” is false.”


  3. Hi Abnoba,

    Totally agree. Einstein is one of the most creative thinkers ever. You shoudl check out Stephen Mitchell’s book. Its all about how Galileo, Freud, and Darwin changed thought.


  4. Logic, reason and science are not responsible for the imposition of a gender binary, neither are incompatible with a good mental health, and don’t lead you to follow imposed ideas with blind faith. Quite the contrary.
    You are not a scientist, but I am. I am a biologist and science is important in my life.That doesn’t mean that I think that art and creativity are useless, I love art, and stories are important in my life too. Science/art and logic/creativity are false binaries, you don’t have to choose one or the other. In fact, you shouldn’t choose one or the other, both are important and necessary, and you need both for a rich and full life.
    Logic and reason doesn’t teach you to follow orders, they teach you to cuestion what people say, and find what is the truth. It doesn’t matter if you like the answer or not, if most people thinks otherwise or if people with power says that there is other answer. The truth is the truth. You can’t change reality just wishing strongly enough. So, is science responsible for the gender binary in toys, and films? It’s just the natural order that girls like princesses and boys like trucks? No, that’s not true at all. Marketing strategies and society are responsible for that. In fact, what science can say is that there is nothing natural in that. Thinking that “liking pink” is a evolutionary trait is completely ridiculous. When people say that girls like pink, and that is just “natural” they are not using science, or logic, or reason. They are lying or are ignorant. And science is not responsible for the lies of people or their lack of knowledge.
    The sentence “these ideas on brain development take on the basic assumptions of Enlightenment” is false. The ideas of Lise Elliot about brain development are based in her scientific knowledge following a path open by Enlightenment philosophers. She isn’t saying that logic restrict the brain capabilities. She is saying that limited experiences limit certain developments of the brain. That is not the same at all.
    Psychoanalysis, by the way, has been very criticized

    • I see– you think I am saying artist= good, healthy; scientist = bad, crazy? No, no, no! Sorry, if not clear. You could never write a novel without logic, reason, and structure. And as I wrote, great scientists are creative thinkers.

      I am saying there is not one truth, one way, one answer, but a multitude of potentials that create and influence each other.

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