The psychology of pink

One of the things I’ve learned is that colour isn’t just something we see: the moment it seeps into our eyes it has the power to influence us in a myriad ways. Each month I’ll be taking a colour and investigating how colour makes us think, act and feel – and challenging you to integrate it into your life to see what a difference it can make. This month, it’s pinks turn in the spotlight.

About pink…

When my son (known to regular Colour Filers as second-in-command) was three, his favourite attire was his fireman’s outfit teamed with pink wellies. However, three days after starting primary school he declared, “There are three girls’ colours: pink, purple and lilac. The rest are boys’ colours”. And with that, the pink wellies were unceremoniously scrapped. Watch kids play and you’ll see how pink often divides boys and girls, even though studies show that before this happens, babies equally like red (which goes to make pink) and blue, regardless of sex. So what is the truth about pink? Is it soft and girly or have we started to think differently about this most controversial of colours?


The history of pink

The story goes that not so long ago, pink was for boys and blue was for girls. In her book, The Secret Lives of Colour. Kassia St Clair explains that a 1918 trade publication confirmed this was the ‘generally accepted rule’ because pink was ‘stronger’ and blue was more ‘delicate and dainty’ (think ‘Virgin Mary’).

However, factors including the popularity of blue sailors’ suits for boys and the mass availability of pink and blue dyes (which put an end to all children wearing just white and gave people choices) meant that by the 1950s, the colour gender divide was firmly established. So does this colour preference hold for adults, too?


Scientific studies about the colour pink

A 2007 University of Newcastle study of adults found that the universal colour favourite is blue amongst both men AND women. However, women rated reddish tones more highly than men did, leading to speculation that it’s because hunter-gatherer women might be more attuned to red shades because of berries, leading to a hardwired love of pink (a suggestion later challenged by a study in Namibia where they found no preference for reddish tones amongst women).

Whatever the situation, pink is seen as powerful: recent research found that items like pink pens and razors marketed at women are almost 40 per cent more expensive than those marketed at men (the so-called ‘pink premium’ or ‘pastel tax’). It’s also been scientifically proven to be calming (despite being red with white added to it).

Research Alexander Schauss found that when inmates of a correctional facility stared at a small card painted in a flamingo pink, it markedly reduced the heart rate, pulse and respiration compared to other colours. Schauss subsequently named the colour after the institute directors (hence Baker-Miller pink, AKA Drunk Tank or Schauss pink or P-618) and to this day the colour is sometimes used to help mollify rowdy prisoners.


Emily Murray, author of Pink House Living and pink expert

Emily Murray, interiors and style expert, author of Pink House Living and founder of The Pink House is convinced of the power of pink.“Pink comes with so many positive associations and has an inexplicable pull for me,” she says.

However, for many years pink wasn’t viewed that positively but for reasons including it gaining socio-political importance (for example, it’s the colour of breast cancer awareness and gay rights) Emily says it’s gone through something of an ‘historical shift’ and is now more widely regarded.

“My favourite pinks are neon pink and a more sugar shade like blush pink which represent the two sides of pink,” she says. “The strong, powerful side and the soft, feminine side. Pink says you can love kittens but you can be a tree-climber, too. Pink is powerful and has it all.”


The pink challenge

There are so many ways you can infuse more pink into your life – and in so many varieties of pink, from shell pink and pastel or candy pink through to bright, confident cerise. One particular challenge may be trying to convince reluctant partners that their lives could be improved by bringing a touch of pink into them. Emily says: “Men tend to think of pink as a girls’ colour but I think it’s the fashion-forward, forward-thinking men who view this in a different and interesting way. ‘Real men embrace pink’ has become a badge of honour.” Incorporating more pink into your life can help you to push out existing boundaries – and those of your other half. Please feel free to come up with your own but here are some suggestions for this month’s pink challenge to get you started:

Have a ‘pink date’ each week

The rise of ‘millennial pink’ means that finding a restaurant, bar or café with pink décor shouldn’t be too tricky. For example, visit The Gallery at London’s Sketch which is famous for having been remodelled in pink (pictured below).

Can’t find a pink venue? Choose pink (or blush) drinks for you both instead, whether it’s a daiquiri, a cosmopolitan or pink champagne (or my favourite, Bloom Jasmine and Rose Gin, below).


Surround yourself with pink plants

Pink flowers can be feminine but it’s also possible to source architectural-looking ones that are more striking and may appeal more to pink cynics. For example, the Protea family and Alpinia purpurata (the red ginger plant).

Pink succulent plants are a fabulous way to introduce pink into your home, too, whether it’s Echeveria ‘Afterglow’ or Sedum rubrotinctum ‘Aurora’ (also known as the red jelly bean plant).

I particularly love these Sweet Williams from Patch Plants (pictured below centre).


Start with pink where you can’t see it

If you feel that your partner isn’t quite ready for full-on visible pink, go for something a little bit more under-the-radar. For example, introduce them to pink socks.

Apparently, Victorian gentry would dress more flamboyantly to celebrate the end of a successful week so why not encourage them to pick up this tradition and run with it?

Try The London Sock Company’s vibrant Pink Friday socks for a touch of entry-level pink (see bottom left pic).

Another option is to introduce pink to the ‘extremities’ (as Marianne Shillingford, creative director of Dulux describes them) such as pink accessories such as jewellery, laces or a scarf, or even a pink notebook from @marthabrookldn  

Think pink by stealth…Introduce it bit by bit and who knows, you may be on your way to a pink front door…



Look for inspo on Instagram

Insta is awash with pink is so many incarnations. Search using the word ‘pink’ and you’ll soon find pink accounts to follow and hashtags by the truckload.

For example, @quirkandrescue (an East London design duo comprising Ms.Pink and Mr.Black) thrill me daily with their use of pink (from the millennial variety through to hot neon, see bottom left) in conjunction with masses of other colours.

Emily @doodle_moo brings pink to gallery walls everywhere and I love seeing what clever and inspirational artwork she’s going to come up with next (middle picture below).

Lately, I’ve been loving Lisa Dawson’s @_lisa_dawson_ transformation of her laundry room using the whispering pink of Floating Petal by @duluxuk (bottom right).


Read Pink House Living

Emily’s book is packed full of ‘pinkspiration’, whether you’re a pink beginner or a dyed-in-the-wool pink aficionado.

There’s pink wisdom (and humour) from Emily plus page after page of swoon-worthy pink interiors concepts from a whole range of experts from Instagram and beyond.

Oh, and it has bright pink foil writing on the cover, which you won’t be able to stop touching – I guarantee you. 


  • I’d love to hear what you’re doing during this month to put more pink into your lives, whether it’s a big reno project or simply drinking the pinkest of gins. Let me know by hashtagging #colourfilecolourchallenge or message me to tell me all about it.

Additional pictures courtesy of @patchplants @marthabrookldn @kasie_barton @pinkhouseliving 

Published 30 June 2019

Read Pink House Living!

Emily’s book is packed full of ‘pinkspiration’, whether you’re a pink beginner or a dyed-in-the-wool pink aficionado. There’s pink wisdom (and humour) from Emily plus page after page of pink interiors concepts from a whole range of swoon-worthy experts from Instagram and beyond. Oh, and it has bright pink foil writing on the cover, which you won’t be able to stop touching – I guarantee you.

  • For more ideas on how to incorporate more pink into your life, visit Emily’s website and follow her on Instagram @pinkhouseliving

Published 30 June 2019

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