Psychology of Colours: Red

Colour in context theory argues that two sources are responsible for our responses to colours. One; societal learning causing an association between a colour and reaction; like the colour red symbolising love and passion. Second; biologically based predispositions to colours. The red colour representing a sexual signal might have evolved from biological heritage, as research shows that non-human female primate exhibit red colour as a sign of fertility. So, both societal learning and biologically based predispositions affect how we interpret colours.

As different colours have different associations for us, the colour of our clothes affect our thoughts and behaviour. Let’s look at the effect of red colour on our minds!


Red has a positive association with attractiveness. Men rate women as more attractive and sexually desirable when viewed in red clothing. They are also more likely to contact a woman displaying red on a dating website, ask more intimate questions and sit closer to women in red and walk more quickly to an interview on dating conducted by women in red. The red effect observed for men viewing women is also observed for women. Women rate men wearing a red shirt as more attractive, compared to other coloured shirts.

However, it seems that the effect is specific to men when it comes to actual behaviour. Studies show women hitchhikers wearing red solicited a higher response in the number of male drivers who stopped to offer a ride. No colour effect was found when considering the behaviour of female drivers. Waitresses wearing red received tips more often and in larger amounts but only with male patrons.

Researchers argue that this is because the factors influencing women’s attraction to men are much more complex and variegated than those influencing men’s attraction to women.

Self Attractiveness

The colour red also increases our perception of self-attractiveness. In a series of experiments, male and female individuals wearing red shirt rated their own attractiveness higher than males and females wearing blue. Authors discuss that perhaps this is due to individuals knowledge of opposite sex’s preferences. It could also be explained by the colour in context theory, and red being associated with signs of fertility and sexuality, therefore participants perceiving themselves as more sexy and attractive.

Competitive Sport Performance

In sports like boxing and tae kwon do, male competitors in red relative to blue sportswear were more likely to win the competition. Analysis of 50 years of archival data from elite English football leagues also found a performance advantage for teams wearing red relative to other colours.

Researchers argue that these results are due to the fact that wearing red enhances one’s dominance, aggressiveness, and testosterone. This argument is supported by the fact that the red effect was most prominent with males. Several studies also support wearing red or being affiliated with red to perceiving oneself as more dominant, intimidating, threatening, aggressive, and powerful and exhibiting a higher heart rate, higher testosterone, and greater performance strength.

On the other hand, viewing red on an opponent may also exert an influence; opponent presented in red is perceived to be more dominant, aggressive, brave, competitive, and more likely to win a competition. Experienced players took penalty kicks against a goalkeeper wearing a black, red, green, blue, or yellow jersey. Players facing red-clad goalkeepers scored on fewer penalty kicks than those facing either blue- or green-clad goalkeepers. The findings indicate that competing against red-clad opponents hindered the performance of football athletes.

Cognitive Task Performance 

The colour red affects our performance on cognitive tasks as well, however, there are mixed findings on this area. Some researchers think that the influence of red on cognitive tasks depends on the difficulty of the task, while others argue it depends on the type of task. In a study, it was shown that red enhanced the performance on a simple detail-oriented task. However, blue enhanced performance on a difficult detail-oriented task as well as on both simple and difficult creative tasks. Perhaps because red is commonly associated with danger and mistakes (e.g., incorrect answers are marked in red ink); while blue is commonly associated with openness and peace (e. g., the sky and the sea are both blue).

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