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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 13-Sep-15


Sunday 13-September-15

Red for Sexiness

Red is a hue that has deep meaning. Blood is red, leading perhaps to red signifying danger. Red in the face and limbs is also indicative of anger, another dangerous thing, as blood rushes around the angry person, speeding the adrenaline that makes us able to fight harder and with less concern for pain. Even Olympic boxers who wear red are more likely to win their contests. Interestingly, the eyes are more sensitive to the red end of the spectrum, which is why red things stand out so much. Perhaps this is not a coincidence.

Red is also associated with sexual arousal, where blood again rises as blood vessels dilate. It is not just people who this affects. Ovulation makes female chimps redder, making male chimps in turn sexually aroused. Humans too are aroused by red. Researcher Daniela Kayser and colleagues showed male students were a photo of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman. Half the subjects were shown a picture in which she wore a red shirt, while the other half saw an identical version with a green shirt. They were then asked to choose five questions from a list of 24 to ask the woman. The men who saw the red dress opted for more intimate questions. This has been reproduced by others to the extent that it is sometimes called 'The Red Dress Effect'.

It is not that simple, though. If you filled a bar with women in red dresses, the conservative one in blue would probably get more attention, just because she was different. So why don't women were red more often? Possibly because they know it makes them stand out and they may not want overt attention that red gains. 

As well as just sexiness, women wearing red may also be seen as warmer and more competent. And yes, if a woman puts an image with red in on a dating site, she will get more connections. Also of note is that women are more likely to wear red when they are most fertile, which seems to be an unconscious drive to mate.

The reverse is somewhat true too. Studies such as Wen et al (2014) have shown that men who wear red are rated more attractive by women, though nowhere near as strongly. Interestingly, few men seem interested in wearing bright red. Or any bright colours for that matter. Men are more interested in appearing powerful, which is why black is such a popular option.


Wen, F., Zuo, B., Yang, W., Shan, S. and Ke L. (2014). Red Is Romantic, but Only for Feminine Females: Sexual Dimorphism Moderates Red Effect on Sexual Attraction. Evolutionary Psychology. 12, 4, 719-735.

Kayser, D.N.., Elliot, A., and Feltman, R. (2010). Red and romantic behavior in men viewing women. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 6, 901-908.

Pazda, Adam D.; Elliot, Andrew J.; Greitemeyer, Tobias (2011). "Sexy red: Perceived sexual receptivity mediates the red-attraction relation in men viewing woman". Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 3, 787.

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