Wearing red doesn’t only draw attention from members of the opposite sex, it can provoke sexual rivalry in women, researchers say.
A new study claims that a woman wearing red sets off “mate-guard” impulses in other women, and that a woman is less likely to introduce a woman wearing red to her boyfriend or spouse.
“Certain colors may affect how people perceive us,” said Adam Pazda, a researcher at the University of Rochester, who collaborated with researchers from Trnava University in Slovakia and the Slovak Academy of Sciences on the study, published Friday in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. “It’s very useful to know what messages you’re sending off.”
In one experiment, female volunteers were shown an image of a woman, judged to be “moderately attractive,” wearing a strapless dress that was digitally colored either red or white. They were asked to assess the woman on a scale, based solely on the picture, on whether she was interested in sex. Though not by a large margin, the women who were shown the red dress photo judged the woman as more sexually receptive.
“Sexual receptivity and promiscuity are closely related concepts, and suggesting that other women are promiscuous may be a strategy for undermining their mate value,” the study said.
The women were then asked to imagine they were competing with the woman in the photo for the attention of an attractive man. They were asked to answer on a sliding scale from “yes, definitely,” to “no, not at all,” whether they thought the woman in the photo would cheat on a man or whether she thought the woman had money. Those presented with the photo of the woman in red were significantly more inclined to say that she would be unfaithful. The woman in red’s financial success was seen as less of a threat, the study concluded.
The science is still out on whether social conditioning leads us to perceive women in red as potently sexual, or whether biology inherently makes us associate red with sex, linked with the blushing of skin during sexual excitement. Many believe it to be a combination of both.
The study authors said that the fact that the red dress was compared with a white dress may be problematic, since white is a color we are socially conditioned to associate with purity, virginity and marriage. So in another test, women were shown photos of a woman in a red shirt or a green shirt; they rated the woman in red as more sexually receptive.
The study says that future research would compare red to different colors, particularly black, which it says is typically “fashionable and sexy.”
Researchers were careful to highlight that “not all women displaying red are necessarily signaling sexual receptivity.”
Pazda’s study shows a tendency for women to be treated or perceived, by both women and men, as open to or seeking sexual advances based merely on a color they are wearing.
“You might be seen to be sending the signal that you’re on the sexual prowl,” said Pazda. “It might help you to be more informed you’re putting out that signal.”
He said practical applications of the study may include knowing what not to wear for a job interview. “Or what to wear, depending on the job,” he added suggestively, saying he would leave it to the creativity of reader to figure out what job that might be.
Since the study admits the findings have absolutely zero bearing on what a woman’s intention is when wearing the color, maybe we all should start checking ourselves for “seeing red.”