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Interviewee: Daniela Niesta, University of Rochester
By Heather Mayer
It may be that red is the color of Valentine’s Day because hearts are red. Or there may be more to it than that. Psychology researchers have found that the color red makes women more attractive to males.
“Red is so predominantly used in the context of love and passion and sex that it’s interesting that people are not aware of what it does actually to you in reality,” says Daniela Niesta, a University of Rochester psychology researcher who co-authored the study with Andrew Elliot.
Elliot’s previous research found that the color red can have a negative effect on test performance.
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In the attraction study, the researchers first showed male subjects pictures of the same women placed on different colored backgrounds — red, white, grey or green. This was to study whether simply being paired with the color red made a woman more attractive.
“We found consistently women who were shown on a red background were rated as being more beautiful, more attractive, prettier, than exactly the same women who were shown on a differently colored background,” Niesta explains.
Once discovering that the color red seems to make a woman more attractive to males, the researchers took a step further to study how red might affect the dating scene. Different groups of male subjects looked at an image of exactly the same woman, but the researchers had used photo editing software to change only the color of her shirt. They asked the men how much they would want to date this woman, how much they would want to kiss her and how much money they would spend on her for dinner.
“Again, what we found consistently, was the very robust effect that subjects who saw women displayed with a red shirt were more interested in dating her, more interested to go to the prom with her and, in fact, even indicated to spend more money for her on dinner,” Niesta says.
More specifically, if the men had $100 for dinner, they were willing to spend on average $15 more on the same woman wearing a red shirt, Niesta explains.
This new research could be a tool for women on dates who want that extra special dinner.
It turns out the attraction to the color red appears to be unconscious. At the end of the experiment the researchers asked the male subjects if they paid any attention to the women’s hair style, shirt color or facial expression.
“There was no awareness going on there, so the participants did not say anything about the influence that color may have had on them, paying more or seeing women as being more attractive,” says Niesta.
But early studies of female subjects don’t suggest that women find other women more attractive if dressed in red.
“We really think it was only holding true for men looking at women,” Niesta says.
Niesta says they haven’t yet tested whether the red phenomenon works the other way around — whether men may be more attractive to women if they wear red.
“Should guys drive a red sports car to their date?” Niesta laughs. “Well, a red sports car is probably always sexy to drive no matter what we will find out.”
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