Women dressed in red are more likely to be perceived as a sexual threat by other women, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Rochester, Trnava University in Slovakia and the Slovak Academy of Sciences, and published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin on July 11.
“It helps us make sense of other people’s behavior when women are out in red and they are getting the cold shoulder from other women,” lead author Adam Pazda said. “Maybe they are giving off the perception of a romantic competitor.”
Red Sends a Strong Signal
Prior research has shown that women are more likely to perceive a woman as sexually receptive if she is wearing red and, in fact, that women are more likely to wear red if they expect to meet an attractive man.
The new research was composed of three separate experiments, all of which consisted of showing women a photo of another woman whose face was blurred out. Researchers used Photoshop to alter the color of the clothing in the photo so that color was the only difference between the photos shown to participants.
In the first study, participants were shown a photo of a woman in either a red dress or a white dress and asked, “How interested in sex is she?” and “How seductive is she?”
Participants considered the woman significantly more open to sexual encounters if she was wearing a red dress, regardless of whether participants were currently in a romantic relationship or not.
The second experiment, which used the same photos on new participants, was designed to determine whether women would be more likely to “derogate” a woman if she wore red.
“Derogation involves speaking poorly of another person to make them seem inferior, undesirable, or unlikeable, while making oneself seem superior and more likable by contrast,” Pazda said.
The researchers found that women were more likely to agree with the statement, “I would guess that this [woman] cheats on men,” when shown the photo of a woman in red, but no more likely to agree with money-related statements such as, “I would guess that this woman has no money.”
The third study was conducted in an Eastern European country rather than in the United States, and the photos shown were of a woman wearing either a red or a green shirt. All participants in this study were currently involved in romantic relationships, and were asked how likely they would be to introduce their boyfriends to the woman in the photo.
“These women were reluctant to leave a man alone with a woman in a red shirt,” Pazda said.
The Surprising Power of Color
Researchers have long been interested in the effects that colors have on mood and behavior, but studying these effects has been difficult. For one thing, the meanings of colors are highly tied up with culture, as are the boundaries between one color and another (red and pink, for instance). For another, colors can vary dramatically in hue, shade and brightness, all of which might influence how they affect us.
Yet, both psychological research and anecdotal evidence suggest some surprising effects of color. These include pink rooms being used to calm out-of-control juvenile delinquents, blue streetlights reducing crime rates, warm-colored placebo pills being more effective than cool-colored ones, exposure to red hampering children’s test performances, exposure to red improving people’s reaction time and force, and teams dressed in mostly black uniforms being more likely to get penalties.
“We tend to take color for granted,” Pazda said. “It’s not just a pretty thing in our environment that adds to the aesthetic experience in the world. Behind the scenes, it can affect us psychologically in the way we perceive others or ourselves.”