Although the aphrodisiacal effect of the color red may be a product of societal conditioning alone, the authors of a new study argue that men’s response to red more likely stems from deeper biological roots. Research has shown that nonhuman male primates are particularly attracted to females displaying red. Female baboons and chimpanzees, for example, redden conspicuously when nearing ovulation, sending a clear sexual signal designed to attract males.
Through five psychological experiments, Andrew Elliot, professor of psychology, and Daniela Niesta, post-doctoral researcher, demonstrate that the color red makes men feel more amorous toward women. And men are unaware of the role the color plays in their attraction.
The 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, the woman was also more likely to score an invitation to the prom and to be treated to a more expensive outing.
The red effect extends only to males and only to perceptions of attractiveness. Red did not increase attractiveness ratings for females rating other females and red did not change how men rated the women in the photographs in terms of likability, intelligence or kindness.
Although red enhances positive feelings in this study, earlier research suggests the meaning of a color depends on its context. For example, Elliot and others have shown that seeing red in competition situations, such as written examinations or sporting events, leads to worse performance.