Effect replicated across cultures, new research finds
It's a symbol of courage and sacrifice, of sin and sexuality, of power and passion – and now new research demonstrates that the color red makes men more alluring to women.
In the United States, England, Germany and China, women found men more appealing when they were either pictured wearing red or framed in red, compared with other colors. The finding is reported in the August issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, published by the American Psychological Association.
"Red is typically thought of as a sexy color for women only," said Andrew Elliot, PhD, of the University of Rochester and University of Munich. "Our findings suggest that the link between red and sex also applies to men."
Twenty-five men and 32 women briefly viewed a black-and-white photo of a Caucasian man in a polo shirt, surrounded by a red or white matte. Using a nine-point scale, they answered three questions: "How attractive do you think this person is?" "How pleasant is this person to look at?" and "If I were to meet the person in this picture face to face, I would think he is attractive."
Red warmed up women only. Women who looked at a man surrounded by red or white rated the man surrounded by red a little over one point higher on a nine-point scale of attractiveness, a statistically significant bump.
Another experiment featured a man in a color photo, dressed in either a red or a green shirt. A pool of 55 women rated the man in red as significantly more attractive -- on average, nearly one point higher on the same nine-point scale. They also thought he was more desirable, according to a second, five-item measure that asked viewers to rate, for example, the likelihood that they'd want to have sex with him.
Although red means different things in different cultures, the finding of women (but not men) drawn to men in red was consistent across countries.
And it's true about red power ties: Women in a follow-up study perceived men wearing red T-shirts to be significantly more likely to be high in status than men wearing blue T-shirts, in addition to the men in red seeming more generally and sexually attractive. Five smaller studies (20-38 participants) comparing women's responses to men in red or gray, including their sense of the men's status, established a chain of evidence that red may enhance sexual attractiveness because red is a status symbol, according to the authors.
The power of red holds throughout the primate world. Female primates (including women) are "extremely adept at detecting and decoding blood flow changes in the face," the authors wrote, "and women have been shown to be more sensitive to the perception of red stimuli than are men."
Are men aware that red may work in the bedroom as well as the boardroom? The authors suggest red might make men more likely to strut their stuff. "A man who wears red may feel dominant," they added, "which influences his self-confidence and behavior and in turn may impress women."