Why Everyone Should Wear Red All the Time

Red is associated with love, power, nobility and now, scientists say, attention to detail. Blue (the other preferred tie color of choice for business and politics) is now thought to boost creativity. Image (Image credit: Dreamstime)

Red is often a sign of power and passion, so perhaps it's not much of a stretch to think a woman wearing crimson might be more alluring to men. Recent research would suggest, however, that red isn't just for the ladies.

Women from the United States, Germany and China found men more attractive and desirable when the guys were pictured wearing red or framed in red than with other colors, according to research published in the August issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

"Red is typically thought of as a sexy color for women only," study researcher Andrew Elliot, of the University of Rochester and University of Munich, said in a statement. "Our findings suggest that the link between red and sex also applies to men."

In a similar study published in 2008, Elliot also found red on women drives men wild. That study appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

So Tiger Woods already has a leg up with the ladies on Sundays, as he always wears a red shirt on the greens this day. His golfing success in that garb also may have some scientific basis. A study published in 2008 in the journal Psychological Science found that referees are biased in favor of athletes who wear red. The study involved tae kwon do competitors who tended to garner more points when they sported red rather than blue.

Anthropologists Russell Hill and Robert Barton of the University of Durham in England also found that wearing red is linked to a higher probability of winning across a range of sports. The scientists examined one-on-one sports in the 2004 Olympics, including boxing, tae kwon do, Greco-Roman wrestling and freestyle wrestling. Competitors were randomly assigned red or blue outfits or protective gear. In 16 of 21 rounds, the red-clad athletes won.

Perhaps, the researchers say, our perception of red has an evolutionary basis. Past research has shown red correlates with male dominance and testosterone levels in animals. And in humans, "anger is associated with reddening of the skin due to increased blood flow, whereas fear is associated with increased pallor in similarly threatening situations," the scientists wrote in the May 19, 2005, issue of the journal Nature.

As such, athletes may have a subconscious reaction when they see opponents wearing red that puts them at a disadvantage.

Red can have a down side, though, as the 19th-century classic "The Scarlet Letter," can attest to.

Even a hint of red can have a negative impact on test takers' performance, suggests a study that Elliot and colleagues published in 2007 in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. When study participants were aware of red prior to an important test, such as an IQ test or major exam, they associated the color with mistakes and failures. As such, they did more poorly on that test.

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Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.