The Allure of Red
"I've never seen so many men ask you if you wanted to dance,
They're looking for a little romance, given half the chance" -- lyrics to "Lady in Red" by Chris De Burgh
"The Lady in Red" has been the title of two songs as well as two movies. It would appear that the color can make an impression…and now there's research suggesting just why it's so appealing. According to a new study, men believe that when women are wearing the color red, they are more interested in sex.
This research, conducted at the University of Rochester in New York, suggests that the color red and its affect on men's sexual attraction to women lies in our evolutionary origins and traditional human mating behavior.1 Our direct ancestors of the female primate variety flush red in the face when they reach fertility. That's right, when chimpanzees and certain baboons are ovulating, their estrogen levels rise and the blood vessels in their faces dilate. This hormonal reaction causes their faces to turn a lovely shade of crimson. And a red face signals the males in the community that the female is ready for sex. And for those who don't believe in evolution, you can just say that it's part of the natural order of human mating habits. In any case, I know guys back in high school and college who would have given anything to get that clear a signal from the girls they were dating. And perhaps they did…
The scientists theorize that it is this biological throwback that causes human males' heightened sexual attraction towards women in red. In some primitive part of the brain that men seem completely tied into, they are wired to believe that red on a female translates directly to an interest in having sex. If only that were a standard code everyone was aware of, it might make things easier for some poor guys trying to pick women up at bars. But is it?
The study involved 25 male volunteers viewing a photo of a woman. The photo was altered so that the one woman depicted appeared to either be wearing a red T-shirt or a white T-shirt. The participants were asked to rate the woman's level of interest in sex and romance on a scale of one to nine. The men rated the woman between one and one-and-a-half points higher when she was dressed in red. It seems the color was a clear flag to them of her openness to a sexual encounter. One question the study did not answer is, "What are women thinking when they decide to wear red?" Is this a two way signal -- or is it all in men's heads.
Previous research has found that men consider a woman to be more sexually alluring if they deem her to be receptive to a possible advance on their part. Tied together with the latest findings, this may explain why some men go crazy for a lady in red. And clearly it doesn't have to be a provocative type of outfit either. No low-cut blouses or super-short minis were shown -- just a simple red T-shirt was enough to jump-start the men's libidos.
A 2010 study found that it's not just men who find women in red attractive, but that the reverse is true as well.2 The research, also at the University of Rochester (that's sounding like a more fun school all the time), involved showing 25 men and 32 women black-and-white pictures of a man framed by either a white or red background. The subjects ranked the attractiveness of the man on a scale of one to nine, and men on red backgrounds were rated more than one point higher on the attractiveness scale by women over men on a white background. In a second experiment, a man was depicted in a color photo wearing a green or a red shirt. Women participants rated the man in red almost a full point higher on the scale than the man in green. When the women were given follow-up questions including whether or not they would want to have sex with the man in the image, the women thought the man in red was more desirable.
Now, since male primates are not known to flush and turn red "in the face" to signal fertility, it could be that some of this is influenced by cultural factors. After many generations of people thinking of red as the color of desire, it's hard to separate how much of this was biologically programmed and how much was passed down as a societal norm.
At any rate, it's interesting food for thought for members of both genders. A man might want to pause before hitting on a woman wearing red to consider just what it is about her that he finds alluring and whether she truly is sending off signals of availability and interest. And a woman might want to think about her clothing color choices before a night out on the town, based on whether she's actually in the mood to be "extra" attractive.
1 Strain, Daniel. "The Red-Dress Effect." Science. 27 February 2012. Accessed 3 April 2012. <http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2012/02/the-red-dress-effect.html>.
2 Alleyne, Richard. "Women prefer a man in red." The Telegraph. 2 August 2010. Accessed 3 April 2012. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/7922951/Women-prefer-a-man-in-red.html>.