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The idea that certain colors elicit different emotional and behavior responses in humans isn’t all that new, but a new research paper suggests that the effect is stronger than we may have thought.

The research team built on the physical signal of the color red, which is displayed on the body of female chimps prior to ovulation:

Male chimps [responded to this signal] by masturbating and attempting to mount them. […] Daniela Kayser‘s team found that when a lady wears red it prompts men to ask her more intimate questions and to sit closer to her.

The key finding was that men who’d viewed the woman wearing red opted to ask more intimate questions.

Kayser and her colleagues said their findings are consistent with evolutionary accounts of human attraction and have obvious practical implications. ‘It appears that women would do well to wear a red shirt or dress when preparing for a date with a desirable man, and women may be particularly successful in online dating when they post a picture of themselves in red apparel. More generally, our findings should be of considerable interest to fashion consultants and product designers, as well as marketers and advertisers.’

The last part of that quote is interesting. With chimps, the red display isn’t simply a signal (an action that the sender chooses to send and can potentially manipulate), but a costly signal or screening device (an action that is not under the control of the sender or one that is so costly only a truthful sender could deploy it). The chimps can’t turn the display on and off to their advantage.  Women, on the other hand, can choose to wear red whenever they like.  If the finding becomes well known–that women who seek to be viewed as more desirable will wear red in an attempt to subconsciously influence men–the signal may likely lose it’s effectiveness and be discounted by men.  Unlike chimps, men can use reason to temper the effect of their emotions (well, sometimes).

Also, as the British Psychological Society notes, you run the risk of some pretty humorous situations–like entering bars that are awash in red-clad patrons:

Were these recommendations to be heeded widely, it raises the comical prospect of city bars and night-clubs being filled entirely with red-clad women and men, like rival sports teams arriving for a match only to discover they’re both wearing the same strip. Yes, the men in red too, because another recent study by the same research team found that men wearing red were rated as more attractive and high-status by women.

(Via Bob Sutton)