Red may be the color of love for a reason: It makes men feel more amorous towards women, a new study reports.
From ancient rituals to those red paper lace hearts on Valentines, red has been tied to carnal passions and romance in many cultures over the course of history.
In five psychological experiments, University of Rochester psychologists tested how different colors affected men's attitudes towards women.
In one experiment, test subjects were shown a picture of a woman that was framed by either a red or white border and asked to answer a series of questions, such as: "How pretty do you think this person is?" Other experiments contrasted red with gray, green or blue (keeping saturation and brightness levels the same between the different hues).
In the final study, the shirt of the woman in the photo was digitally colored red or blue. In this experiment, men were questioned not only about their attraction to the woman, but about how they would plan a hypothetical date with her. For example, one question asked: "Imagine that you are going on a date with this person and have $100 in your wallet. How much would you be willing to spend on your date?"
In all the experiments, 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, women were also more likely to be treated to a more expensive outing.
"It's fascinating to find that something as ubiquitous as color can be having an effect on our behavior without our awareness," said study team member Andrew Elliot.
The study, detailed in the Oct. 28 online edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, is said to be the first to scientifically document the effects of color on behavior in relationships.
Elliot and his co-author Daniela Niesta said the effect could be due to societal conditioning, though they attribute it to deeper biological roots because nonhuman male primates, such as baboons and chimpanzees, are known to be attracted to females displaying red.
The red effect applied only to males and only to their perceptions of attractiveness; it did not change their ratings of the pictured women in terms of likability, intelligence or kindness.
Other research suggests that the effect of color depends on the context. In a previous study, Elliot and his colleagues showed that seeing red in competitive situations, such as sporting events, leads to worse performance. Another recent study suggests that referees favor red-clad competitors because of a subconscious bias for the color.
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