Devil in a Red Dress: How Color Affects Men, Women, and Our Sex Drives
By Heath Shive
Did you know that men tip waitresses more when the women wear red?
Psychologist Nicolas Gueguen published a paper on this little color insight.
But it doesn’t stop there.
The story goes that matadors use red capes because the color provokes the bulls, and baboons flash a red butt to signal status.
Does red bring out the animal…in you?
This is called embodied cognition, and psychologist Thalma Lobel has written an entire book about it called Sensation: The New Science of Physical Intelligence – which is where I found following studies.
To the science!
Are Men Suckers for Red?
Researchers Andrew Elliot and Daniela Niesta published a study in 2008. They showed 2 groups of men a black-and-white photo of a young woman for about 5 seconds. Both groups of men saw the same woman - but half of the men saw on the picture with a red background and the other half saw the picture on a white background.
The men were then asked to rate the woman’s attractiveness on a scale of 1 to 9.
The men who saw the woman on a red background rated her as more attractive than the men who saw the white background.
Typical oversexed men, right?
Are Women Suckers for Red Too?
In 2010, researchers (again including Elliot and Niesta) performed a similar experiment on women. Women were shown the picture of a man. But the women either saw the picture with a red, white or gray background.
As expected, women who saw the picture of the man with a red background rated him as more attractive and more desirable than the women who saw the other backgrounds.
Red has a measurable effect on humans.
But don’t get carried away, guys. Just because an effect is measurable does not mean it is of primary significance.
Though women seem to succeed with wearing red dresses, there’s a reason men don’t wear red suits, looking like cartoonish villains.
But observe the color of a politician’s tie, a rich man’s car, or even a stop sign.
Red gets our attention.
Psychology frequently tells us that our instincts and experiences (our insides) affect our actions in the outside world.
But studies can also show that the outside world (its colors, smells, sounds, and textures) affect our inner selves and thinking too.
Whether we admit it or not, we are all are sensual creatures.
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A. J. Elliot and D. Niesta (2008). Romantic red: Red enhances men’s attraction to women. Journal Personality and Social Psychology, 95 (5), 1150-1164.
A.J. Elliot, D. Niesta Kayser, T. Greitenmeyer, S. Lichtensfeld, R. H. Gramzow, M. A. Maier, and H. Liu (2010). Red, rank, and romance in women viewing men. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 139 (3), 399-417.
Lobel, Thalma. Sensation: The New Science of Physical Intelligence. Atria Books, 2014.
N. Gueguen and C Jacob (2012). Clothing color and tipping: Gentlemen patrons give more tips to waitresses with red clothes. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research, April 18, 2012.
Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.