A new multicultural study finds that women are attracted to the color red when looking at men — and they aren’t even aware of this arousing effect.
Researchers at the University of Rochester find in a new study that the charm of cherry may be its ability to make men appear more powerful.
“We found that women view men in red as higher in status, more likely to make money, and more likely to climb the social ladder,” says Andrew Elliot, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. “And it’s this high-status judgment that leads to the attraction.”
So what’s going on here?
The study authors say that for humans, evolutionary biology and culture seem to be at work in making the color red a hot one.
Elliot says that red traditionally and across many cultures is seen as a sign of wealth and power, and that since the days of ancient Rome, the vibrant color has conveyed elevated status and prosperity.
And even today, they report, previous research has shown that businessmen wearing red “power ties” give off an aura of confidence, and they note it’s apparently no coincidence that when celebrities and dignitaries are feted, a red carpet is rolled out.
In seven different experiments, Elliot and colleagues analyzed responses from 288 female and 25 male undergraduates to photographs of men. All participants identified themselves as heterosexual or bisexual.
At one point, participants looked at a man’s photo that was framed by a border of either red or white and asked questions such as, “How attractive to you think this person is?”
Other tests contrasted red with gray, green, or blue. Color intensity was the same to prevent results from being attributed to differences other than hue.
In several experiments, the shirt of the man in the pictures was digitally colored red or another hue. Participants rated the pictured man’s status and attractiveness and reported on their willingness to date, kiss, and engage in other sexual activity with him.
And they also rated their perception of his general likability, kindness, and extraversion.
The red effect, the researchers say, was limited to romance and status. Red made guys seem more powerful, attractive, and sexually desirable, but not more likable, kind, or sociable.
Female undergraduates from the U.S., England, Germany, and China all found that men in the photographs were more attractive when wearing red or bordered by the color.
Males asked to rate attractiveness of a pictured male saw no difference when other colors were used.
When women see red, it triggers something deep and probably biologically engrained,” Elliot says in a news release. “We say in our culture that men act like animals in the sexual realm. It looks like women may be acting like animals as well in the same sort of way.”
In mankind’s non-human genetically close relatives, such as baboons, females have been shown to see red as an indicator of male dominance and this is expressed most intensely in alpha males.
Female mandrills and gelada baboons are more likely to mate with alpha males, which they see as capable of providing resources and protection.
And it’s apparently the same in people.
“We typically think of the influence of color in terms of beauty and aesthetics,” Elliot says. “But color carries meaning as well and affects our perception and behavior in important ways without our awareness.”
In previous research, Elliot has found that men were more attracted to women in red, but that context also was important. Seeing red in competitive situations, such as sporting events or IQ tests, produced different feelings.
“The influence of red appears to be specific to women’s romantic attraction to men,” the researchers say. “Red did not influence men’s perceptions of other men, nor did it influence women’s perceptions of men’s overall likability, agreeableness, or extraversion.”
The authors say that females may see redness as a characteristic of strength and appeal they’d desire consciously or unconsciously for their children. Red may be seen as a sign of health and vitality.
The study is published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.