Seeing Red

Dressing in red around the office might have your colleagues seeing you in a different light!
15 May 2015


Dressing in red around the office might have your colleagues seeing you in a different light! Boxing

A new study from Durham University's Robert Barton has found that when the same person is shown wearing a red-coloured top, rather than a blue or grey one, they tend to be rated as dominant, aggressive, and even more angry by others. 

Writing in Biology Letters, 100 raters (fifty male and fifty female) scored pictures of twenty men, all bearing neutral expressions, for perceived dominance, aggression and portrayed emotion.

The images had been manipulated to alter the colours of the mens' tops so they were all identical shades of either red, grey or blue.

Separate images were prepared of each male individual wearing all three colours so that each of the subjects served as their own control, removing any bias owing to the subjects' appearance. 

Dressed in red, the subjects were judged to be aggressive and "angry" significantly more often than when they were shown in more soothing blue or grey hues. Male raters also ranked red-clad subjects as dominant significantly more often. 

"In nature, chemical pigments, and also blood flowing through the skin, produce a red colouration," explains Barton. "And this acts as a feature of fitness and health, because to load the skin with coloured pigments, or to pump extra blood through the skin in large amounts, you need to be in good shape. So animals, including humans, are likely to be sensitive to red hues for these reasons, because fitness signals a threat." 

Scientists knew that sports teams playing in red did appear to hold the upper hand. The effect has been seen before in competitive sports. In wrestling, for instance, competitors dressed in red are known to hold a 5% advantage over individuals in blue. 

"But the effect is bigger than that if you compare evenly-matched competitors," says Barton. "Then it's about 60/40." 

This new study, however, is the first to demonstrate that the effect is manifest at a social level. 

"The red power-tie is so-named for a reason," says Barton. "When you are about to go into that meeting, you need to decide beforehand whether you want to dominate and be pre-judged as angry and aggressive, or to have a calmer demeanour..."


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