The color apparently makes a man more attractive, more powerful and more sexually desirable to women, according to a study appearing in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. The research suggests that woman's thoughts and feelings toward men are partly, primitive, a finding sure to open another chapter in the endless discussion of the perennial question `What do women want?'
Females were found to view men wearing red-colored clothing as being higher in status and more likely to earn a better living. And it was that very high-status judgment which triggered the attraction, according to according to University of Rochester Psychologist Andrew Elliot, the lead author of the study, which included co-authors from Europe and China.
"I definitely think that there's a learned component such that one learns red is the royal color or a powerful color or a color tie that you pull out if you want to make an impression," he said in an interview with CBSNews.com. "But that also begs the question where that came from and the cross-cultural aspects, where it's found across cultures which otherwise have very little in common."
Indeed, a so-called "red effect" between men and women has been observed in different cultures in both East and West. That may hint at a connection to historical and biological factors. In many societies, for example, the ruling classes equated red clothing with high status. Elliot also said that spilled over in the use of red carpets to celebrate someone's special achievement or the use of red to make a sartorial impression in a business setting.
"Part of this is the learned piece," says Elliot, who noted that when women see red, it evokes deeper reactions that may be biologically ingrained. "The other is the biological piece which might explain why that learning takes place."
Humans share 99% of their genes with primates and in primate societies, the color red is usually found on alpha males. But this goes beyond primates. The study notes that "male red appears to carry an amorous meaning for females" in several animal species where males display intense red coloration. This female attraction to male red has been found in crustaceans, fish, birds and nonhuman primates."
As societies around the world incorporated red into their cultures, reinforcing the biologically-based use of the culture, it helped foster a situation where red did need to be natural or observed on the body to exert influence. The study found that "artificial red displayed in close proximity to the body may be sufficient to produce ornament and status effects."
The biggest surprise for Elliot was the realization that it was status and not raw power which helped drive this "red effect."
"In the wild, red is an indicator of physical strength and dominance," he said. "Here it wasn't strength and dominance; it was something more involved, though the underlying meaning was the same - that this is a male who will take care of me and has good genetic material and can provide."
The experiments relied on responses from male and female undergraduates from the United States, England, Germany, and China.
The findings built on research Elliot and and Daniela Niesta, did a couple of years earlier, when they concluded that the color red enhanced men's attraction to women. But he said that the reason men were attracted to women in red was due to red's association as "the color of sexual receptivity" in the animal kingdom.