The Color of Sensual
and Successful Influence?
By Kevin Hogan
Lady in Red
Monkeys may not want to go near food from someone in red, but
something incredibly mystical happens when a woman puts on the color
Through five psychological experiments, Andrew Elliot, professor of
psychology, and Daniela Niesta, post-doctoral researcher, demonstrate
that the color red makes men feel more amorous toward women. And men
are unaware of the role the color plays in their attraction.
The research provides the first empirical support for society's
enduring love affair with red. From the red ochre used in ancient
rituals to today's red-light districts and red hearts on Valentine's
Day, the rosy hue has been tied to carnal passions and romantic love
across cultures and millennia. But this study, said Elliot, is the
only work to scientifically document the effects of color on behavior
in the context of relationships.
The Psychology of Color
"It's only recently that psychologists and researchers in other
disciplines have been looking closely and systematically at the
relationship between color and behavior. Much is known about color
physics and color physiology, but very little about color
psychology," said Elliot. "It's fascinating to find that something as
ubiquitous as color can be having an effect on our behavior without
Although this aphrodisiacal effect of red may be a product of
societal conditioning alone, the authors argue that men's response to
red more likely stems from deeper biological roots. Research has
shown that nonhuman male primates are particularly attracted to
females displaying red. Female baboons and chimpanzees, for example,
redden conspicuously when nearing ovulation, sending a clear sexual
signal designed to attract males.
"Our research demonstrates a parallel in the way that human and
nonhuman male primates respond to red," concluded the authors. "In
doing so, our findings confirm what many women have long suspected
and claimed - that men act like animals in the sexual realm. As much
as men might like to think that they respond to women in a
thoughtful, sophisticated manner, it appears that at least to some
degree, their preferences and predilections are, in a word, primitive."
To quantify the red effect, the study looked at men's responses to
photographs of women under a variety of color presentations. In one
experiment, test subjects looked at a woman's photo framed by a
border of either red or white and answered a series of questions,
such as: "How pretty do you think this person is?" Other experiments
contrasted red with gray, green, or blue.
When using chromatic colors like green and blue, the colors were
precisely equated in saturation and brightness levels, explained
Niesta. "That way the test results could not be attributed to
differences other than hue."
In the final study, the shirt of the woman in the photograph,
instead of the background, was digitally colored red or blue. In this
experiment, men were queried not only about their attraction to the
woman, but their intentions regarding dating.
One question asked: "Imagine that you are going on a date with this
person and have $100 in your wallet. How much money would you
be willing to spend on your date?"
Under all of the conditions, the women shown framed by or wearing
red were rated significantly more attractive and sexually desirable
by men than the exact same women shown with other colors. When
wearing red, the woman was also more likely to score an invitation to
the prom and to be treated to a more expensive outing.
Women Seeing Red
Red did not increase attractiveness ratings for
females rating other females and red did not change how men rated the
women in the photographs in terms of likability, intelligence or
Although red enhances positive feelings in this study, earlier
research suggests the meaning of a color depends on its context. For
example, Elliot and others have shown that seeing red in competition
situations, such as written examinations or sporting events, leads to
The current findings have clear implications for the dating game,
the fashion industry, product design and marketing.
[To view the full text of the paper, visit the Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology Web site at:
http://www.apa.org/journals/psp/. Contact: Susan Hagen
susan.hagen AT rochester DOT edu]
More about women? How do they respond to color?
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