Listen up, ladies: If you're looking to score, break out that red dress.
Men were more eager to bed women wearing red than those decked out in other colors, according to five studies involving 149 men and 32 women published today in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The men also judged those women as more attractive than those sans red duds.
"I'm not going to let my 16-year-old daughter wear red, let's put it that way," says study author Andrew Elliot, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. "I do think a female who's interested in a male and going on a date ought to pull that red shirt out of the closet, because most likely it will make her more attractive to him."
There are two explanations for the phenomenon, says Elliot, a visiting professor at the University of Munich this semester. Society's emphasis on red on Valentine's Day as well as in sexy red lingerie may have taught men to link the color with romance, he says. There may also be an evolutionary explanation, based on humans' close genetic relationship with primates: Male primates tend to be especially attracted to female primates who show their red hindquarters, made rosy by increased blood flow when they're most fertile.
The men in the study were asked to rate their level of sexual interest on a scale of one to nine (one signifying zero interest and nine representing the strongest) in the women in photos they were shown. They were also asked to grade the women's attractiveness using the same scale. The desirability score was about 1.5 points higher and their attractiveness rating 1.2 points higher for women in red than for those in gray, green or blue.
Women surveyed didn’t rate their red-clad sisters as being any more attractive than those sporting garb in other hues, and neither they nor the guys found the ladies in red to appear any more likable, nicer or smarter than those in other colors. That suggests that red has a very specific color association with sexual behavior, Elliot says.
Women are likely to show a similar level of increased attraction to men in red in follow-up research he’s doing now, Elliot adds.
"The hypothesis is that you're going to see the same thing for females rating males, but through a different process," he says. "Females are more attracted to dominant, higher-status males. Red is a dominant cue in the wild when it's shown on a male. So human females who see red on a male will view him as more dominant, and that will lead her to be more attracted to him."
One caveat: The findings may be colored by certain situations. Elliot's previous research found that people who literally saw red immediately before a writing task performed worse—possibly because of our negative association with teachers' red pens used to point out errors.
(Image by iStockphoto)