Men who wear the color red are perceived as being more angry and aggressive, in much the same way as if their face had reddened, according to a new study at Durham University in England.
The research, published in the journal Biology Letters, is believed to be the first to investigate the effects of color on social perceptions of dominance and aggression in neutral settings.
During the study, 50 male and 50 female volunteers were shown images of men in different colored T-shirts. The participants rated the men on a scale of one to seven for both aggression and dominance.
The findings showed that they rated men wearing red as more aggressive and angry than those wearing blue or grey. Interestingly, male participants also perceived the men wearing red as “dominant,” but the female volunteers did not.
The findings may have parallels in nature and could shed light on whether it is advisable to wear red in certain social situations, said study leader Dr. Rob Barton, professor in evolutionary anthropology at Durham University.
In animals, red often signals aggression, and the phenomenon of humans turning red-faced when angry is thought to stem from our ancient ancestors as a warning sign to others.
In some animal species, red may be displayed by competing males attempting to dominate each other to win the right to mate with females, he said.
Barton conducted the study with colleagues Dr. Russell Hill and Ph.D. student Diana Wiedemann of the Department of Anthropology, and Dr. Mike Burt of the Department of Psychology, all at Durham University.
“We know that the color red has an effect on the human brain. This is embedded in our culture, for example the idea of wearing a red tie — known as a ‘power tie’ — for business, or issuing a red alert,” said Wiedemann.
“The implications of our research are that people may wish to think carefully about wearing red in social situations and perhaps important meetings, such as job interviews.
“Being perceived as aggressive or dominant may be an advantage in some circumstances but a disadvantage in others, for example where teamwork or trustworthiness is important.”
The researchers also found in a previous study that wearing red can have effects in sports, promoting aggression and competitiveness within teams and intimidating opponents.
The researchers are currently talking to organizers of combat sports about the possibility of introducing regulations on competitors wearing red, to avoid the color being used to unfair advantage.
“Taken together, our findings suggest a clear association between the color red and perceptions of anger, possibly related to the role of facial reddening as a natural sign of anger,” said Barton.
Source: Durham University