When female chimps are nearing ovulation they display red on their bodies. Male chimps respond by masturbating and attempting to mount them. A new study claims we humans have moved on from this, but not a lot. Daniela Kayser‘s team found that when a lady wears red it prompts men to ask her more intimate questions and to sit closer to her. Surprisingly, this is the first time that the effect of colour on human sexual attraction behaviour has been studied. Past research has relied on asking participants to report their attraction rather than measuring their actual behaviour.
Twenty-three heterosexual or bisexual male undergrads were shown a photo of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed female rated in pilot work by men as moderately attractive. Half the participants saw a version in which she wore a red shirt, the other half saw an identical version bar for the fact that the shirt was green. Next the participants were asked to select 5 questions from a choice of 24 to ask the woman (these ranged from ‘Where are you from?’ to ‘How could a guy get your attention at a bar?’). The key finding was that men who’d viewed the woman wearing red opted to ask more intimate questions.
In a second study another 22 male undergrads were shown a photo of a moderately attractive brown-haired, brown-eyed woman wearing either a red shirt or a blue shirt. The men were tricked into thinking they were about to have a conversation with the woman in an adjacent room. They were shown to the room, which contained two chairs – one at a table and one at the side. The men were told the woman would sit at the chair by the table and instructed to grab the other chair so as to sit across from her. The men who’d seen the photo in which the woman wore red placed their chair nearer to where they thought she was about to sit. This difference wasn’t caused by effects on mood.
Kayser and her colleagues said their findings are consistent with evolutionary accounts of human attraction and have obvious practical implications. ‘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.’
Were these recommendations to be heeded widely, it raises the comical prospect of city bars and night-clubs being filled entirely with red-clad women and men, like rival sports teams arriving for a match only to discover they’re both wearing the same strip. Yes, the men in red too, because another recent study by the same research team found that men wearing red were rated as more attractive and high-status by women.
Niesta Kayser, D., Elliot, A., and Feltman, R. (2010). Red and romantic behavior in men viewing women. European Journal of Social Psychology DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.757