Women and Men on Men and Women in Red

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Researcher Daniela Niesta Kayser. (Image credit: University of Potsdam

Attempts to Detect Some Effects of Red Clothing
by Alice Shirell Kaswell, Improbable Research staff

Consternation abounds as to the relationships, if there are any, between a woman’s reproductive biology and her decisions to wear, or not to wear, red things. Here are some of the bolder explorations that seek understanding of this vexing subject.

Men Viewing Women in Red
Red and Romantic Behavior in Men Viewing Women,” Daniela Niesta Kayser, Andrew J. Elliot, and Roger Feltman, European Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 40, issue 6, October 2010, pp. 901–908. The authors, at the University of Rochester, explain:

In two experiments, we investigate..., specifically, whether red on a woman’s shirt increases attraction behavior in men. In Experiment 1, men who viewed an ostensible conversation partner in a red versus a green shirt chose to ask her more intimate questions. In Experiment 2, men who viewed an ostensible interaction partner in a red versus a blue shirt chose to sit closer to her.... [Our results show that it] appears that women would do well to wear a red shirt or dress when preparing for a date with a desirable man, and women may be particularly successful in online dating when they post a picture of themselves in red apparel. More generally, our findings should be of considerable interest to fashion consultants and product designers, as well as marketers and advertisers.

Romance in Women Viewing Men
Red, Rank, and Romance in Women Viewing Men,” Andrew J. Elliot, Daniela Niesta Kayser, Stephanie Lichtenfeld, Markus A. Maier, Tobias Greitemeyer, and Richard H. Gramzow, Journal of Experimental Psychology, 2010, vol. 139, no. 3, pp. 399–417. The researchers, at the University of Rochester, the University of Munich, the University of Innsbruck, the University of Southampton, and Tianjin Medical University, explain:

[I]n a series of 7 experiments we demonstrate that women perceive men to be more attractive and sexually desirable when seen on a red background and in red clothing.... The influence of red appears to be specific to women’s romantic attraction to men: Red did not... influence women’s perceptions of men’s overall likability, agreeableness, or extraversion.

On Men Who View Women in Red in Austria
Sexy Red: Perceived Sexual Receptivity Mediates the Red-Attraction Relation in Men Viewing Woman,” Adam D. Pazda, Andrew J. Elliot, and Tobias Greitemeyer, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 48, no. 3, 2012, pp. 787-790. The authors, at the University of Rochester and the Slovak Academy of Sciences, explain:

Males in Austria participated [in these experiments].... From a pragmatic standpoint, our results suggest that women may need to be judicious in their use of red clothing. Wearing red may be a subtle, yet powerful way to communicate sexual interest to a targeted male, but in public settings replete with eager male receivers, a red signal may result in unwanted sexual advances. More generally, our finding that female red carries sexual meaning will likely be of considerable interest to fashion designers, marketers, and advertisers.

On Men Who View Women in Red in Burkina Faso
“Red Enhances Women’s Attractiveness to Men: First Evidence Suggesting Universality,” Andrew J. Elliot, Jessica L. Tracy, Adam D. Pazda, and Alec T. Beall, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 49, no. 1, 2013, pp. 165-168. The authors explain:

Recent research in the U.S. and Europe indicates that viewing red enhances men’s attraction to women.... We conducted a first test of this universality hypothesis by examining the influence of red on attraction among men living in an isolated traditional small-scale society in Burkina Faso where red carries explicitly negative associations. The results indicated that the red effect is present in Burkina, and that it emerges in culturally appropriate expressions of attraction.

On Women Who Use Red to Be Viewed by Men
Women Use Red in Order to Attract Mates,” Pavol Prokop and Martin Hromada, Ethology, vol. 119, no. 7, 2013, pp. 605-613. The authors, at Trnava University, Slovakia, and Poznań University of Life Sciences, Poland, explain:

As expected, women preferred red clothing both in real-life and would-be situations more than men.... A preference for the color red was shown in particular for clothes on the upper parts of the participants’ bodies... Women who were actually involved in a romantic sexual relationship had a preference for red in would-be situations more than single women...

On Women Who Use Red to Be Viewed by Men
“Women’s Use of Red Clothing as a Sexual Signal in Intersexual Interaction,” Andrew J. Elliot, Tobias Greitemeyer, and Adam D. Pazda, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 49, no. 3, 2013, pp. 599-602. The authors explain:

In Experiment 1, women expecting to converse with an attractive man were more likely to choose to wear a red (versus green) shirt than women expecting to converse with an unattractive man or a woman of average attractiveness. In Experiment 2, women expecting to converse with an attractive man were more likely to choose to wear a red (versus blue) shirt than women expecting to converse with an attractive woman.

On Women Who See Red When They See Other Women in Red Clothing
Red and Romantic Rivalry: Viewing Another Woman in Red Increases Perceptions of Sexual Receptivity, Derogation, and Intentions to Mate-Guard,” Adam D. Pazda, Pavol Prokop, and Andrew J. Elliot, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, vol. 40, no. 10, 2014, pp. 1260-1269. The authors explain:

Experiment 1 demonstrated that women perceive another woman in a red, relative to white, dress as sexually receptive. Experiment 2 demonstrated that women are more likely to derogate the sexual fidelity of a woman in red, relative to white. Experiment 3 revealed that women are more likely to intend to guard their romantic partner from a woman wearing a red, relative to a green, shirt.

Revisiting Romantic Red
“Romantic Red Revisited: Red Enhances Men’s Attraction to Young, But Not Menopausal Women,” Sascha Schwarz and Marie Singer, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 49, no. 1, 2013, pp. 161-164. The authors, at Technische Universität Dortmund, and Bergische Universität Wuppertal, Germany, explain:

► Young and old men judged a young or older woman against a red or white background.
► Red increases only young woman’s sexual attractiveness.
► Young and old men do not differ in this sexual attractiveness ratings.
► Red does not increase physical attractiveness, intelligence or sympathy.
► Men are not aware of this red effect.


This article is republished with permission from the September-October 2016 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift! Visit their website for more research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.

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