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Romantic red revisited: Red enhances men's attraction to young, but not menopausal women



Recent studies have shown that the color red enhances men?s sexual attraction to women. In this study, a sample of 60 young (M = 24.67 years) and 60 old male participants (M = 53.47 years) were presented either a young female target (perceived age: M = 23.67 years), or an old female target (perceived age: M = 48.18 years), either on a red or white background. The results show that only the young target was perceived as more sexually attractive against the red compared to the white background. Background color had no effect on the sexual attractiveness of the older target. Further implications of these findings are discussed.
Romantic red revisited: Red enhances men's attraction to young, but not
menopausal women
Sascha Schwarz
, Marie Singer
Technische Universität Dortmund, Dortmund, Germany
Bergische Universität Wuppertal, Wuppertal, Germany
Young and old men judged a young or older woman against a red or white background.
Red increases only young woman's sexual attractiveness.
Young and old men do not differ in this sexual attractiveness ratings.
Red does not increase physical attractiveness, intelligence or sympathy.
Men are not aware of this red effect.
abstractarticle info
Article history:
Received 8 April 2012
Revised 2 August 2012
Available online 19 August 2012
Physical attractiveness
Sexual attractiveness
Young woman
Menopausal woman
Colour in context
Recent studies have shown that the color red enhances men's sexual attraction to women. In this study, a
sample of 60 young (M= 24.67 years) and 60 old male participants (M= 53.47 years) was presented either
a young female target (perceived age: M= 23.67 years), or an old female target (perceived age: M=
48.18 years), either on a red or white background. The results show that only the young target was perceived
as more sexually attractive against the red compared to the white background. Background color had no ef-
fect on the sexual attractiveness of the older target. Further implications of these ndings are discussed.
© 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Previous research has revealed that men evaluate specic physical
attributes to make judgments about the attractiveness of women. In
brief, regardless of age, men are attracted to women who are at
their peak reproductive potential in order to enhance reproductive
success (Buss, 2008). This reproductive potential is cued by such phys-
ical attributes as a youthful and feminine face, a low waist-to-hip ratio,
and a low, but not too low, body weight (Swami & Furnham, 2008).
Further research reveals nonphysical factors that inuence men's at-
traction to women, e.g., clothing. Studies have shown that prior to ovu-
lation, women are likely to wear more provocative clothes, and men
perceive these women as more attractive (Durante, Griskevicius, Hill,
Perilloux, & Li, 2011; Haselton, Mortezaie, Pillsworth, Bleske-Rechek,
& Frederick, 2007; Röder,Brewer, & Fink, 2009; Schwarz & Hassebrauck,
Recent research has demonstrated thatanother factor can inuence
men's attraction to women: the color red. Red is a very dominant color
and has been directly connected to sexuality for thousands of years.
Ethnographic and archaeological records in southern Africa revealed
that women extensively used red ochre and other red pigments for
cosmetic purposes as a symbol of their fertility (Powers, 1999; Watts,
1999). Some women in Africa still use red ochre during wedding rituals
(Douglas, 2001).
Even today in more industrialized cultures, most participants rate
red as a positive color, because it is associated with love, passion, and
warmth (Kaya & Epps, 2004). Elliot and Niesta (2008) offered two
possible explanations for the connection between red and sexuality.
The rst source is conditioning based on the longstanding tradition
connecting red with romantic concepts. For example, red is paired
with hearts on Valentine's Day to symbolize romantic affection, and in
many societies, red signals sexual availability in red-lightdistricts.
Second, the color red also has biological roots in reproduction in our
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 49 (2013) 161164
We thank Georgia von Glasow and Jennifer Bomert for their help in collecting the
data and the reviewers for providing valuable suggestions on an earlier draft of this
Corresponding author at: Bergische Universität Wuppertal, FB G-Sozialpsychologie,
Gauss-Str. 20, 42097 Wuppertal, Germany.
E-mail address: (S. Schwarz).
0022-1031/$ see front matter © 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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close relatives. In some female primates, increased estrogen levels prior
to ovulation lead to increased blood ow, thereby causing the skin at the
genitals, perineum,chest, or face to become red. Male primates are sex-
ually attracted to these cues of ovulation (Deschner, Heistermann,
Hodges, & Boesch, 2004; Dixson, 1983). Regardless of whether one em-
phasizes the proximate societal or the ultimate biological explanation
for the linkage between red and sexuality, red may enhance men's at-
traction to women.
Elliot and Niesta (2008) systematically examined the effect of the
color red on the physical and sexual attractiveness of women. They
showed male participants' pictures of female targets, printed on
either red, white, blue, grey, or green backgrounds. The authors
found that red backgrounds led men to perceive women to be more
physically and sexually attractive than other background colors
(Elliot & Niesta, 2008). This effect was especially strong on ratings of
sexual attractiveness. Sympathy, intelligence, and friendliness ratings
were not inuenced by the background (a similar study by Roberts,
Owen, & Havlicek, 2010 found comparable effects). Niesta-Kayser,
Elliot, and Feltman (2010) also presented evidence from a behavioral
study. When the female target wore a red T-shirt, men chose to sit closer
to her than a woman wearing a blue T-shirt (see also Guéguen, 2012).
However, it is currently unknown if all women are perceived as
more sexually attractive when associated with red. In previous stud-
ies, the targets as well as the participants were young (i.e., around
20 years old). Women around this age are near peak fertility and
have a high reproductive value (Buss, 2008). If red is related to fertil-
ity, older, post-menopausal women (beyond 50 years) should not
generally be viewed by men as sexual targets and thus red should
not elicit any sexual effect. On the other hand, if the societal learning
theory is correct and humans are conditioned to associate red with
romance and sex, red should lead to higher perceptions of attractive-
ness regardless of the age of the woman. Further, as men, regardless
of their own age, prefer young women (Schwarz & Hassebrauck, in
press) we expect red to have an effect independent of men's age.
A total of 120 men participated in this study. The mean age of the
younger men (n=60) was 24.67 years (1931 years, SD =3.15), and
the mean age of the men in the older cohort (n=60) was 53.47 years
(4565 years, SD = 4.69).
The questionnaire used in this study was adapted from Elliot and
Niesta (2008). Participants were told that they would participate in
a study on person perception. The following three questions were
used to measure sexual attractiveness (α=.95): How much do you
want to be intimate with this person?,How sexually desirable do
you nd this person?, and How much do you want to have sex
with this person?
Furthermore, participants were asked to rate the physical attrac-
tiveness (How beautiful do you think this person is?), intelligence
(How intelligent do you think this person is?), and likeability
(How much do you like this person?) of the female targets. Further,
the participants were asked to what degree they believed their
ratings were inuenced by the facial expression, dress, and color of
the background. All items were rated on a 9-point scale (1: not at
all to 9: extremely). Finally, the participants estimated the age of
the woman.
The photographs were 10.2 cm× 15.2 cm and centered on a DIN
A4 page. The young target was the same one used by Elliot and
Niesta (2008). Pretests have shown that the young target as well as
the older target used in this study were both moderately attractive.
The photos were printed with a HP PSC 1410 on glossy white paper
(110 g/m
) and presented on the same red background as in the orig-
inal study or with no background and matched regarding luminance
and chroma.
Participants were recruited from a shopping district in a medium
sized city in Germany as well as a university campus. The experi-
menter randomly showed each participant one of four photos
(i.e., red vs. white background and young vs. old target) for 5 s.
Then the participants completed the questionnaire.
First, we analyzed the perceived target age. The participants per-
ceived the age of the young target as clearly younger (M=23.67 years,
SD=3.67) than the older target (M=48.18 years, SD=5.81, t(118)=
27.64, pb.001).
Next, we conducted a 2 (background color: red vs. white)× 2 (age of
target: young vs. older)× 2 (age of participant: young vs. older)-ANOVA
on sexual attraction. Men rated the young target as more sexually at-
tractive (M=4.62, SD=2.31) than the old target (M=3.15, SD=
2.34, F(1, 112)=14.33, pb.001, d=.63). Moreover, the targets in
front of the red background were marginally signicant rated as
more sexually attractive (M=4.24, SD=2.34) than targets in front of
the white background (M=3.53, SD=2.39, F(1, 112)= 3.25, p=.07,
d=.30). More importantly, these two main effects were qualied by a
signicant two-way interaction between background color and age of
the target, F(1, 112)= 4.79, p=.03. Post-hoc tests showed that partici-
pants were more attracted to the young target in front of the red back-
ground than to the same target in front of the white background (F(1,
116)= 7.33, p=.008, d=.71); however, the background color had no
signicant effect on the sexual attractiveness of the older target
(Fb1). The second signicant interaction (F(1, 112)= 6.33, p=.01)be-
tween the age of the participant and age of the target shows that both
young and old participants viewed the young womanas equally sexual-
ly attractive (Fb1). In contrast, old participants rated the old target as
more sexually attractive (M=4.07, SD= 2.52) than young participants
(M=2.22, SD =1.44, F(1, 116)= 10.64, pb.001, d=.93). Further
post-hoc tests showed that young participants rated the young target
as more sexually attractive (M=4.68, SD=2.28) than the old target
(M=2.22, SD =1.44), F(1, 116)= 18.75, pb.001, d=1.32. However,
old participants perceived the young and old targets as equally sexually
attractive (Fb1). Finally, there was no signicant three-way interaction
We further examined the effect of red on ratings of physical attrac-
tiveness,intelligence, and sympathy. Withregard to physical attractive-
ness, a signicant main effect was observed for the age of the target
(F(1, 112)=13.85, pb.001, d=.67). Specically, the young target was
rated as more physically attractive (M=6.32, SD=1.69) than the old
target (M=5.17, SD=1.76). No signicant effects could be found
with regard to intelligence (max. F(1, 112)=3.44, p=.07) and sympa-
thy (max. F(1,112)= 2.07, p=.15). Especially background color did
not show signicant effects on these variables (max. F(1, 112)=1.54,
p=.22). Taken together, red only inuenced the ratings of sexual at-
tractiveness of the young targets (cf. Table 1).
Finally, we used a mixed 2 (background color of the photo: red vs.
white)×3 (facial expression, dress, and color of the background)-
ANOVA with repeated measurement on the second factor to control
the degree to which these dimensions inuenced the ratings in the
eyes of the participants. We only found a signicant main effect for the
A spectrophotometer was used to match the two photos against the red back-
ground. Only slight differences in luminance (young woman: 35.2 vs. old woman:
34.5) and chroma (young woman: 39.3 vs. old woman: 38.6) were found.
162 S. Schwarz, M. Singer / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 49 (2013) 161164
repeated measurement factor (F(2, 236) =111.36, pb.001). Paired-
sample t-tests showed that facial expression was reported as the most
important factor for the rating (M=6.52, SD=1.91), followed by the
dress (M=4.75,SD=2.24,t(119) =7.62, pb.001, d=.85)andtheback-
ground color (M=3.09, SD=2.21, t(119)= 14.51, pb.001, d=1.67).
Furthermore, the dress was rated as more important than the back-
ground color (t(119)=7.52, pb.001, d=.75). Thus, the background
color (i.e., red or white) was perceived by the male participants in this
study to be the least important factor.
Overall, red had an impact on the sexual attractiveness of the
young target as perceived by both young and old men. However,
the old target was not perceived as more sexually attractive against
the red background. These ndings cannot be explained by simple
perceptual mechanisms. One could argue that the difference in
color contrast or luminance (Cole, Heywood, Kentridge, Fairholm, &
Cowey, 2003) between the red and white condition may explain
why the woman is perceived as more sexually attractive against the
red background. However, following this reasoning, the old target
should also be perceived as more sexually attractive against the red
background. Thus, such simple perceptual explanations (i.e., color
contrast and luminance) can be excluded as alternate interpretations.
However, this study could not reveal the specic underlying
mechanism for this effect. It could be that the color red activates cog-
nitive representations of red-lightdistricts in men, and the typical
female sex worker is closer to 20 than 50 years old. This could easily
explain why the red effect is specic to the young target. It could also
be that red is perceived as a cue to a woman's ovulation, and our old
target is clearly menopausal, so red is not a valid cue. Both are valid
explanations, and this study is not able to decide between them.
However, it should be noted that this effect seems to be rather auto-
matic and probably below awareness. Recently, Pazda, Elliot, and
Greitemeyer (2012) showed that perceived sexual receptivity medi-
ates red-inuenced attraction to young women. Assuming that the
old target is perhaps seen as less sexually receptive than the young
target, it could be that the old target does not fulll a minimal thresh-
old of sexual receptivity. We did not test this idea directly, but it is
possible that sexual receptivity mediates the red effect in this study
as well.
In contrast to the ndings of Elliotand Niesta (2008), we did not nd
red to have a signicant effect on physical attractiveness. However, the
data initially reported by Elliot and Niesta (2008) suggest that red has
stronger effect sizes on more sexually explicit measures rather than
physical attractiveness. Thus, red seems to activate more strongly
explicit sexual associations rather than global assessments of physical
Furthermore, the background color did not have any impact on the
perception of the targets' intelligence or levels of sympathy. These
ndings also support the proposition that red exerts a very specic ef-
fect on young women's sexual attractiveness.
This study has some limitations. First, we used only self-reportsfrom
men. However, other studies have already demonstrated the impact of
the red effect on behavioral measures (Guéguen, 2012; Niesta-Kayser et
al., 2010), suggesting that the red effect is not a methodological artifact.
Second, we did not ask the participants about redgreen debility. How-
ever, this debility would have reduced the effect size, which would have
worked against our hypotheses. Third, we did not measure the sexual
orientation of our male participants. Thus, it is currently unknown if
this effect is specic to heterosexual participants.
Further studies could test additional hypotheses concerning the
red effect, especially the hypothesis that it is a cue for ovulation.
Studies have already shown that women tend to prefer more provoc-
ative clothes prior to ovulation (Durante et al., 2011; Haselton et al.,
2007; Röder et al., 2009; Schwarz & Hassebrauck, 2008). Further
studies could examine whether women also choose more red clothes
prior to ovulation.
Furthermore, a study to distinguish the effects of the color red in
long- versus short-term mating (Buss & Schmitt, 1993) could be fruit-
ful. As red enhances sexual attraction, the red effect should be much
stronger in a short-term (vs. long-term) relationships.
Finally, it is currently unknown if women systematically take advan-
tage of red's effect on sexual attractiveness. It seems reasonable that
women would wear a red dress as an intentional signal (compared to
other colored dresses) when they are sexually interested in a dating
partner (vs. not sexually interested).
Thus, many implications of the effect of red on women's sexual
attractiveness may stimulate further research.
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Table 1
Mean sexual and physical attractiveness, intelligence and sympathy as a function of age
of participants, background color and age of target.
Measure Age of
Young participants Old participants
Background color Background color
Red White Red White
Sexual attractiveness Young 5.91 1.82 3.44 2.05 4.89 2.26 4.24 2.53
Old 2.22 1.40 2.22 1.53 3.92 2.20 4.22 2.88
Physical attractiveness Young 6.20 1.42 6.40 1.18 6.53 1.96 6.13 2.17
Old 5.00 1.81 4.13 1.41 6.00 1.60 5.53 1.77
Intelligence Young 6.00 1.69 6.13 1.13 5.87 1.30 6.13 1.36
Old 6.40 1.12 6.87 0.99 6.53 1.46 6.20 1.78
Sympathy Young 6.20 1.90 6.13 1.77 7.00 1.96 6.13 2.10
Old 5.80 2.04 5.93 1.39 6.00 1.93 5.73 2.05
Notes. Scales range from 1 (not at all) to 9 (extremely). Acrossall analyses, the three-way
interactions between background color, age of target and age of participant were not
163S. Schwarz, M. Singer / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 49 (2013) 161164
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This paper investigates the effect of the color red on gambling behavior, as influenced by feeling lucky and cultural background. Four experiments examine how risk‐taking choices and gambling behaviors are affected. Study 1A and 1B establish the red risk‐aversion effect in gambling decision making and responses to a gambling app advert. Studies 2 and 3 test the moderating effect of feeling lucky and cultural background, respectively. The authors provide empirical evidence to the effect of red color on risk aversion. In general, people make more risk averse choices, gambling less and less often when primed with the color red over other colors. Boundary conditions are identified in feeling lucky and cultural backgrounds, such that when participants feel lucky or are from Asian Chinese backgrounds the effect is reversed and they take more risks when primed with the color red. This study highlights the importance of color in managing the interaction between consumers and gambling contexts.
... The color red also has strong associations with interpersonal attraction. Findings from research examining the effect of red versus chromatic (e.g., blue, green) and achromatic colors (e.g., white, gray) in romantic contexts largely supports a red-attraction effect, whereby the color red enhances the perceived attractiveness of others (Elliot & Niesta, 2008;Elliot, Tracy, Pazda, & Beall, 2013;Meier, D'agostino, Elliot, Maier, & Wilkowski, 2012;Schwarz & Singer, 2013;Young, 2015). This body of knowledge argues that the color red has special significance among primates as a signal for sexual receptivity (e.g., Deschner, Heistermann, Hodges, & Boesch, 2004) and is deeply rooted in many societies' cultural practices as a signal of sexual interest and attraction (e.g., red for Valentine's day and rouging of the lips). ...
The present research addresses the question of how the color red affects married women's evaluations of male attractiveness. Three studies demonstrate a red-derogation effect for married women's judgments such that men are perceived to be less attractive and less sexually desirable when their profiles are displayed on a red versus a white background. We show that married (vs. single) women perceive the color red as a threat cue which, in turn, evokes avoidance tendencies. Our studies indicated that married (vs. single) women became more risk averse (Study 2) and were more likely to recall words related to relationship commitment and threat after exposure to an attractive male presented on a red (vs. white) background (Study 3). Further, we show that the red-derogation effect is moderated by the level of cognitive resources. When married women were cognitively depleted, the effect of color was mitigated. Overall the findings demonstrate that a subtle peripheral cue (e.g., red color) is sufficient to identify an attractive other as a threat, which activates a defensive strategy. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).
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There is little evidence on what colours are associated with moral emotions of guilt and pride and how a change in moral context alters colour-emotion associations. We have addressed this by manipulating the context of (im)moral vs. environmentally (un)friendly behaviours. This is because environmental behaviours are classified as moral, yet they are often driven by different moral motives. We wanted to find out whether this difference could be captured by colour-emotion associations with guilt and pride. We have used an online colour picker to examine over 400 UK participants. The results of the RGB colour model revealed that guilt was most commonly associated with red, black, green, and violet colours. However, the colours of immoral behaviours were much darker than the colours of environmentally unfriendly behaviours. In contrast, pride in moral behaviours was mostly associated with pink, violet, green and blue, whereas pride in environmentally friendly behaviours was mostly paired with green, suggesting that moral context, indeed, has an impact on colour-emotion associations of guilt and pride. In addition, our study has uncovered that colour-emotion associations of guilt and pride are comprised of a certain colour signature, rather than a single colour, and this signature varies with the alteration of context. Our study contributes to developing research in both colour and environmental fields.
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Recent research shows that women experience nonconscious shifts across different phases of the monthly ovulatory cycle. For example, women at peak fertility (near ovulation) are attracted to different kinds of men and show increased desire to attend social gatherings. Building on the evolutionary logic behind such effects, we examined how, why, and when hormonal fluctuations associated with ovulation influenced women's product choices. In three experiments, we show that at peak fertility women nonconsciously choose products that enhance appearance (e.g., choosing sexy rather than more conservative clothing). This hormonally regulated effect appears to be driven by a desire to outdo attractive rival women. Consequently, minimizing the salience of attractive women who are potential rivals suppresses the ovulatory effect on product choice. This research provides some of the first evidence of how, why, and when consumer behavior is influenced by hormonal factors.
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Arguments that symbolism started with sham menstruation rituals.
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People have long been interested in the complexities of human beauty, but until recently the science of attractiveness was largely left to poets, playwrights, philosophers, and artists. This book begins the task of providing a scientific look at physical attraction, by presenting an overview of scholarly work on physical beauty, culture, evolution and other aspects of human attractiveness. The Psychology of Physical Attraction begins by discussing the role of evolution in the development of what it means to be 'attractive' in contemporary society. It provides a general overview of evolutionary psychology and mate choice, as well as an in-depth focus on physical characteristics such as physical symmetry, body weight and ratios, and youthfulness. The book goes on to explore the role of societal and cultural ideals of beauty through a discussion of the social psychology of human beauty. Finally, the 'morality' of physical attractiveness is examined, looking at issues such as discrimination on the basis of looks, body image and eating disorders, and cosmetic surgery. Combining both evolutionary and social perspectives, this book offers a unique and comprehensive overview of the many debates involved in the science of physical attraction which ultimately allows for a better understanding of human beauty. It will be of interest to students and researchers in psychology, as well as anyone interested in the science of physical attractiveness. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Research has shown that with some nonhuman primates, red is associated with greater sexual attractiveness of females. Five female confederates in their early 20s posed as hitchhikers wearing T-shirts of different colors (black, white, red, blue, green, or yellow). It was found that the women wearing red solicited a higher response in the number of male drivers who stopped to offer a ride. No color effect was found when considering the behavior of female drivers. © 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Col Res Appl, 2012
In many non-human primate species, female red displays are a signal of sexual receptivity and this signal attracts male conspecifics. In the present research, we proposed and tested a human analog whereby perceived sexual receptivity mediates the relation between red and sexual attraction in men viewing women. Two experiments were conducted, each of which provided support for the hypothesized mediational model. Experiment 1 documented the mediational role of perceived sexual receptivity using the experimental–causal-chain approach, and Experiment 2 did so using the measurement-of-mediation approach. Alternative mediator variable candidates were ruled out, and participants showed no evidence of awareness of the red effect. These findings document red as a subtle, but surprisingly powerful environmental stimulus that can serve parallel functions in the mating game for human and non-human primates.
This chapter discusses the morphological development and evolutionary history of red sexual skin, and of sexual swellings, among female catarrhines. It examines the various facets of anatomy, endocrinology, behavior, and ecology in extant primates and considers some fossil evidence of catarrhine evolution. This comparative approach offers some clues to the mystery of why sexual skin has such a peculiar, discontinuous distribution among the extant Old World monkeys and apes. The chapter explains that sexual skin may have arisen by elaboration of the same type of vulval swelling and pinkness that occurs during estrus in many female prosimians. This hypothesis derives from the observations of sexual skin ontogeny and from comparative studies of its morphology in adult females. Sexual skin acts primarily as a sexually attractive distance cue in many species. It might therefore be adaptive in any environment where a monkey group spreads out over a wide area or fragments into subgroups. It is suggested that a complementary degree of penile elongation occurs in order to facilitate mating behavior in those species, where females have prominent swellings. The prominent penis of the chimpanzee is best explained on this basis, since the sexual swelling is enormous and adds considerably to the depth of the female's reproductive tract.
Some empirical evidence suggests that women's sexual motivation varies throughout the menstrual cycle, showing a peak prior to ovulation. One potential byproduct of this increased desire might be a provocative clothing style during the fertile days of the cycle. We conducted a longitudinal diary study with 40 normally ovulating women throughout one complete menstrual cycle and analyzed their reported clothing style and self-perceived attractiveness. We also instructed our participants to take one photo with single-use cameras daily. These photos were rated independently by male raters with respect to clothing style and physical attractiveness to test whether men can perceive the hypothesized variations. We found significant main effects for fertility, suggesting women perceive themselves and are perceived by men to be dressed more provocatively during the fertile compared to the low-fertile phase of their menstrual cycle. Results are discussed in light of these findings.