Ladies go gaga over guys in red

U. ROCHESTER (US)—Simply wearing the color red—or being bordered by the rosy hue—makes a man more attractive and sexually desirable to women, a new study finds.

Interestingly, the study also shows that women are unaware of red’s arousing effect. Full details are reported in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

The cherry color’s charm ultimately lies in its ability to make men appear more powerful, says lead author Andrew Elliot, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester.

“We found that women view men in red as higher in status, more likely to make money and more likely to climb the social ladder. And it’s this high-status judgment that leads to the attraction.”

Why does red signal rank? The authors see both culture and biology at work.

In human societies across the globe, red traditionally has been part of the regalia of the rich and powerful. Ancient China, Japan, and sub-Saharan Africa all used the vibrant tint to convey prosperity and elevated status, and Ancient Rome’s most powerful citizens were literally called “the ones who wear red.”

Even today, the authors note, businessmen wear a red tie to indicate confidence.

Along with this learned association between red and status, the authors point to the biological roots of human behavior.

In non-human primates, like mandrills and gelada baboons, red is an indicator of male dominance and is expressed most intensely in alpha males. Females of these species mate more often with alpha males, who in turn provide protection and resources.

“When women see red it triggers something deep and probably biologically engrained,” explains Elliot. “We say in our culture that men act like animals in the sexual realm. It looks like women may be acting like animals as well in the same sort of way.”

To quantify the red effect, the paper analyzed responses from 288 female and 25 male undergraduates to photographs of men in seven different experiments. Participants were all self-identified as heterosexual or bisexual.

In one color presentation, participants looked at a man’s photo framed by a border of either red or white and answered a series of questions, such as: “How attractive do you think this person is?”

Other experiments contrasted red with gray, green, or blue. Colors were precisely equated in lightness and intensity so that test results could not be attributed to differences other than hue.

In several experiments, the shirt of the man in the photographs was digitally colored either red or another color. Participants rated the pictured man’s status and attractiveness, and reported on their willingness to date, kiss, and engage in other sexual activity with the person. They also rated the man’s general likability, kindess, and extraversion.

The researchers found that the red effect was limited to status and romance: red made the man seem more powerful, attractive, and sexually desirable, but did not make the man seem more likable, kind, or sociable.

The effect was consistent across cultures. Undergraduates in the United States, England, Germany, and China all found men more attractive when wearing or bordered by red.

And the effect was limited to women. When males were asked to rate the attractiveness of a pictured male, color made no difference in their responses.

Across all the studies, the influence of color was totally under the radar. “We typically think of color in terms of beauty and aesthetics,” say Elliot. “But color carries meaning as well and affects our perception and behavior in important ways without our awareness.”

In earlier work, Elliot documented that men are more attracted to women in red. But the red effect depends on the context. Elliot and others have also shown that seeing red in competitive situations, such as IQ tests or sporting events, leads to worse performance.

Researchers from the University of Innsbruck, University of Munich, University of Southampton, and Tainjin Medical University contributed to the work, which was funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and an Excellence Guest Professorship at the University of Munich.

More news from the University of Rochester: www.rochester.edu/news

chat8 Comments

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8 Comments

  1. Gregory Bentsen

    288 female and 25 male what? Undergraduates? Contemporary American undergraduates. And yet these results are extrapolated to apply to all human societies — everywhere.

    See this article: http://www.newsweek.com/2010/07/23/what-s-really-human.html

    As an undergraduate (at the University of Rochester, no less) I certainly appreciate fattening my wallet in exchange for a few hours of questionnaires and optical tests, but these conclusions have no statistical significance without representation from a much larger and more diverse group of participants.

  2. steve jobs

    note: the real sciences like Experiment based sciences and engineering.

    social sciences: fake science hoax… Not to mentiion Free Free Free on web.

    researchers in fake sciences and humanites will get real-job at burger-king taco bell.

  3. Dave Fisher

    You should have read to the end of the article. The testing was multi-country: “Undergraduates in the United States, England, Germany, and China all found men more attractive when wearing or bordered by red.” As well as “Researchers from the University of Innsbruck, University of Munich, University of Southampton, and Tainjin Medical University contributed to the work.”

    Junk science or not: “The effect was consistent across cultures.”

    The project “was funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and an Excellence Guest Professorship at the University of Munich.”

    I can see these junk scientists in marketing, design, sales, management, academia, politics, etc. Just a step or two above fast food.

    If nothing else, the results are at least worth noting if you use any kind of psychology in your line of work. I guess that would be most of us fry cooks on the corporate ladder of Fortune 500 companies looking for an edge over our competition.

  4. Graham

    Off to buy a dozen red shirts…

  5. annelie

    What does this say about Santa Claus? Ho ho ho

  6. rainy

    Takes guts for a guy to wear red…. that could be part of it- a woman is picking up on the confidence? (Implied confidence).

  7. pet supplies plus

    unk science or not: “The effect was consistent across cultures.”

    The project “was funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and an Excellence Guest Professorship at the University of Munich.”

    I can see these junk scientists in marketing, design, sales, management, academia, politics, etc. Just a step or two above fast food.

    If nothing else, the results are at least worth noting if you use any kind of psychology in your line of work. I guess that would be most of us fry cooks on the corporate ladder of Fortune 500 companies looking for an edge over our competition.

  8. otto bianchi

    I should have read this article before.

    I would like to share some content on my blog at http://www.online-fps.com/multiplayer/red-crucible/ if is not a problem.

    I’m going to wear only red ties from now on!

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