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ORIGINALITY | CREATIVITY | UNDERSTANDING
ISSN 0031-5125DOI 10.2466/30.24.PMS.117x14z6
Perceptual & Motor Skills: Exercise & Sport
COLOR OF SOCCER GOALKEEPERS' UNIFORMS INFLUENCES THE
OUTCOME OF PENALTY KICKS
IAIN A. GREENLEES
University of Chichester
University of the West of Scotland
RICHARD C. THELWELL
University of Portsmouth
Summary .— This study examined the proposition that competing against red-
clad opponents hinders the performance of soccer (football) athletes. 40 experi-
enced players took 10 penalty kicks against a goalkeeper wearing a black jersey
and, 1 week later, took 10 penalty kicks against a goalkeeper wearing either a red,
green, blue, or yellow jersey. Prior to each set of kicks, participants reported their
expectancy of success. Players facing red-clad goalkeepers scored on fewer penalty
kicks than those facing either blue- or green-clad goalkeepers, but no diﬀ erences in
expectancy of success emerged. The ﬁ ndings indicate that athletes wearing red may
have an advantage over their opponents.
The eﬀ ect of color on human functioning has been of interest to
researchers in a variety of domains for over a hundred years (e.g., Feh-
rman & Fehrman, 2004 ) and a large amount of research has examined the
eﬀ ects of color stimuli on variables ranging from attributes assigned to the
stimuli to aﬀ ective, cognitive, and behavioural responses to the color ( Sol-
dat, Sinclair, & Mark, 1997 ). Within the ﬁ eld of color psychology, applied
researchers have also been interested in the eﬀ ect of clothing color on the
psychological states of the wearer and the perceiver. In a classic study,
Frank and Gilovich (1988 ) conﬁ rmed the potential eﬀ ects of clothing color
when they found that sports performers wearing black were perceived,
by spectators and oﬃ cials alike, to be more aggressive and likely to cheat
than performers wearing other colors. Frank and Gilovich also showed
that black-clad performers were more likely to commit foul-play than
Recently, researchers have explored the potential for red clothing to
confer an advantage on wearers in sport. Hill and Barton (2005 ) proposed
that humans may possess a biologically-based predisposition to view red
© Perceptual & Motor Skills 2013
2013, 117, 1, 1-10.
1 Address correspondence to Iain A. Greenlees, Department of Sport and Exercise
Sciences, College Lane, University of Chichester, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 6PE, UK or
e-mail ( email@example.com ).
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I. A. GREENLEES, ET AL.
as a sign of danger that stems from instances of red signalling danger in
the natural world (e.g., red coloration in several species is used to sig-
nify dominance or readiness to attack; Setchell & Wickings, 2005 ; Pryke &
Griﬃ th, 2006 ). In an archival examination of Olympic martial arts results,
they found that competitors who wore red were more likely to win their
bout than competitors who wore blue. Hill and Barton (2005 ) also found
that soccer teams competing in the 2004 European Championships had
better results and scored more goals when they wore red than when they
wore a uniform of another color. This ﬁ nding has subsequently been sup-
ported by Atrill, Gresty, Hill, and Barton (2008 ) and Allen and Jones (2012 ).
Attrill, et al. (2008) analysed home-team performance relative to primary
shirt color among English soccer league teams since the Second World
War and found that teams wearing red had higher mean league rankings,
percentage wins, and points per game than teams wearing any other color.
However, these ﬁ ndings have been contested by researchers who have
found that red uniforms do not provide an advantage in sport ( Kocher &
Sutter, 2008 ; García-Rubio, Picazo-Tadeo, & González-Gómez, 2011 ).
Thus, the current literature is equivocal in its support for any advan-
tage conferred by red clothing in sport. One potential reason for this may
be the over-reliance on archival research studies. To address this, Hage-
mann, Strauss, and Leissing (2008 ) conducted an experimental analysis of
the eﬀ ects of red uniforms in a competitive sport. Hagemann, et al. (2008)
digitally manipulated footage of ﬁ ve Taikwondo competitors participat-
ing in sparring rounds so that the footage showed the performer wear-
ing either red or blue protective equipment (trunk and head protectors).
Experienced referees viewed and scored these rounds. Although the per-
formances they viewed were identical, the referees who observed the red-
clad target awarded more points than referees who saw the same target
performing in blue.
Research has also shown that wearing red may confer an advantage
on the wearer in soccer. Greenlees, Leyland, Thelwell, and Filby (2008 )
examined the eﬀ ect of soccer players' uniform color and gaze behaviour
on the impressions formed of them by opposing goalkeepers. Twelve
goalkeepers observed video footage of four soccer players preparing to
take a penalty kick. Each soccer player was seen in a diﬀ erent combination
of uniform color (red or white) and gaze (90% vs 10% of gaze directed at
goalkeeper). The goalkeepers rated each player on a series of descriptors,
as well as rating their expectancies for successfully saving penalty kicks
from that player. The results indicated that goalkeepers perceived pen-
alty kickers dressed in red to be more composed, focused, dominant, con-
ﬁ dent, experienced and assertive than those wearing white, and reported
being less conﬁ dent of saving penalties kicked by players who wore red
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COLORED UNIFORMS, EFFECTS 3
and displayed 10% gaze towards the goalkeeper. Subsequent research by
Feltman and Elliot (2011 ) supported these ﬁ ndings, and also found that
wearing red enhanced wearers’ perception of their dominance and threat.
This research thus supports the original work of Hill and Barton (2005 )
and indicates that uniform color has the potential to inﬂ uence the course
and outcome of sporting contests.
Despite the evidence for the potential inﬂ uence of red uniforms, there
is currently no experimental research that has examined the eﬀ ect of red
uniforms on the outcomes of actual sporting encounters. Thus, the cur-
rent research aimed to provide a quasi-experimental examination of the
eﬀ ects on performance of competing against a performer wearing diﬀ er-
ent uniform colors. Red uniforms were compared with a range of alterna-
tively colored uniforms for two reasons. Firstly, Feltman & Elliot (2011 )
have recently called for researchers to examine the eﬀ ects of red with a
broader range of colors to more fully explore its eﬀ ects. Secondly, as soc-
cer goalkeepers typically wear a range of colors, the practical utility of this
research would be increased by assessing a range of colors, as well as by
measuring expectancies of success prior to taking penalties.
Hypothesis 1. In line with previous research ﬁ ndings (e.g., Hill &
Barton, 2005 ), participants who competed against an opponent
wearing red would perform worse (as measured by the num-
ber of penalties they scored) than participants who competed
against an opponent wearing either a yellow-, green-, or blue-
Hypothesis 2. In line with the ﬁ ndings of Greenlees, et al. (2008 ),
participants competing against red-clad opponents would
have lower expectancies of success than participants compet-
ing against opponents dressed in other colors.
Forty male, collegiate soccer players ( M age = 21.9 yr., age range =
18–24) were recruited from the University of Chichester. The mean num-
ber of years of competitive soccer experience was 12. All participants self-
reported themselves to be of white-European ethnicity and without visual
impairment or color blindness. All participants were volunteers and
signed informed consent forms prior to the study.
Penalty kick outcome .— The context of this experiment was the soccer
penalty kick. Participants took penalty kicks on a grass pitch. The size
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I. A. GREENLEES, ET AL.
of the goal (7.32 × 2.44 m) and the distance of the penalty spot from the
goal (11 m) were in accordance with Fédération Internationale de Football
Association (FIFA) laws. A standard size 5 soccer ball was used through-
out the testing. Participants took 10 penalties in two conditions, with the
number of successful kicks (where the ball was judged by 2 research assis-
tants to have crossed the goal-line) being used as the dependent variable.
Expectancy of success .— Participants were asked to rate their percep-
tions of their chances of successfully scoring penalties against the goal-
keeper they were about to face using a 10-point, hierarchically ordered
scale, devised in line with the suggestions of Feltz and Chase (1998 ). The
participants were asked to indicate their agreement or disagreement (yes
or no) with the number of times out of 10 (from zero to 10) they would
score a penalty taken against the goalkeeper they were about to face. For
each response, participants were asked to state their certainty in their
answer with anchors 1: Not sure at all and 10: Totally convinced. A total
score was calculated by summing the certainty scores for all the penal-
ties the participants felt they would score (i.e., answered “yes”). Scores
ranged from zero to 100 with higher scores indicating a greater expectancy
of scoring penalties against the target goalkeeper.
Design and procedure .— Following ethical review and approval, partic-
ipants were recruited from the University soccer teams. Each participant
attended two testing sessions, with between 3 hours and 7 days between
each session. All the testing took place at the same venue, a University
soccerpitch, using the same equipment. To restrict the number of pen-
alties faced by the goalkeepers in any one day, testing was spread over
three days, separated by at least one week. On each day, there were two,
160-min. sessions, separated by one hour, in which goalkeepers faced a
maximum of 160 penalties. Each set of 10 penalties took a maximum of 5
minutes and goalkeepers were given a 5-min. break between each partici-
pant. Thus, goalkeepers either faced 240 or 160 penalty shots in one day.
Prior to testing, and following pilot testing, both goalkeepers agreed that
this represented a manageable number of penalties to face in any one day.
Participants completed the testing individually, in the presence of the sec-
ond author and three research assistants. In the ﬁ rst session, participants
took 10 penalty kicks against a goalkeeper (height = 1.88 m; weight = 102
kg) wearing a black soccer jersey. The purpose of this session was to pro-
vide a baseline measure of performance in the penalty-kick task, which
would allow statistical control of initial diﬀ erences in penalty-kick taking
ability within the participants.
Prior to the second session, participants were matched for perfor-
mance in session one and took penalties against a goalkeeper (height =
1.78 m; weight = 89.6 kg) in one of four experimental conditions (red,
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COLORED UNIFORMS, EFFECTS 5
yellow, blue, or green jerseys). During this session, the goalkeeper's jer-
sey color was rotated after each participant. Participants were not pres-
ent when the goalkeeper changed jersey and only entered the testing area
when the goalkeeper was changed into the appropriate jersey. All jerseys
used in this experiment were commercially available goalkeeper jerseys
(with branding removed). Both goalkeepers were asked to try to save each
penalty they faced, but not to move before each penalty was struck or
move oﬀ their line. Further, they were instructed to stand directly in the
middle of the goal and to focus their attention on the ball as the partici-
pants prepared to take the penalty. They were also instructed to avoid
any incidental interaction with the participants by remaining in the goal-
mouth and by focusing their attention on either the ball or the experi-
menter for the duration of each testing session. This was an attempt to
control for other elements of non-verbal communication and interaction,
which may have inﬂ uenced penalty-taking success ( Greenlees, et al.,
2008 ). The goalkeepers were informed that the study's purpose was to
examine the role of uniform color on penalty performance but they were
not informed of any of the experimental hypotheses. Using a funnelled
brieﬁ ng and debrieﬁ ng procedure ( Bargh & Chartrand, 2000 ), the goal-
keepers reported that they were unaware of the potential eﬀ ect of red uni-
forms on performance and perceived uniform color had no eﬀ ect on their
performance in the task, suggesting that they were unaware of any color
eﬀ ect or the true purpose of the study. Prior to taking each set of penal-
ties, the participants were asked to rate their expectancies of success. Fol-
lowing the experiment, all participants completed a funnelled debrieﬁ ng
procedure and were debriefed fully as to the nature of the study. No par-
ticipants reported any suspicion as to the nature of the research and none
reported any suspicions concerning the jersey color of the goalkeeper.
The authors conducted two one-way analyses of covariance (ANCO-
VAs), using session one penalty kick scores and expectancy of success
scores as the covariates, to explore the eﬀ ects of uniform color on perfor-
mance and expectancies of success. ANCOVA was used to reduce error
variance and to equate groups on initial penalty-kick ability and expec-
tancies of success ( Field, 2009 ). All ANCOVA assumptions were met. To
examine statistically signiﬁ cant ﬁ ndings, pairwise comparison tests based
on adjusted means were used. It could be argued that a correction (e.g.,
Bonferroni) should have been used, as conducting multiple analyses
increases the chance of producing statistically signiﬁ cant results. How-
ever, the danger of using such corrections is that they are overly conser-
vative (especially with preliminary and exploratory data sets such as the
present one) and they come at the cost of signiﬁ cantly reduced statistical
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I. A. GREENLEES, ET AL.
power and the increased probability of making a Type II error ( Nakagawa,
2004 ; Allen, Greenlees, & Jones, 2011 ).
The one-way ANCOVA conducted on penalty kick performance
indicated a signiﬁ cant eﬀ ect of uniform color ( F 3,34 = 3.57, p = .024, ω
0.16). Pairwise comparison tests indicated that fewer goals were scored
against the goalkeeper when he wore red than when he wore blue ( p =
.017, Cohen's d = 1.12), or green ( p = .004, d = 1.47). The diﬀ erence between
goals scored in the red and yellow conditions was not statistically signiﬁ -
cant although the eﬀ ect size was moderate ( p = .13, d = 0.75). The other dif-
ferences between groups had small eﬀ ect sizes (blue vs green, p = .55, d =
0.25; blue vs yellow, p = .38, d = 0.36; green vs yellow, p = .16, d = 0.25). The
one-way ANCOVA conducted on expectancy of success scores indicated
no eﬀ ect of uniform color ( F 3,34 = 0.28, p = .84, ω
2 = −0.03). See Table 1 for
mean performance and expectancy of success scores.
M EAN PERFORMANCE AND EXPECTANCIES OF SUCCESS SCORES ACROSS COLOR CONDITIONS
Goalkeepers' Uniform Color
Red Blue Yellow Green
M SD M SD M SD M SD
control goalkeeper 6.90 2.42 6.80 1.62 6.80 1.32 6.70 1.83
Expectancies of suc-
cess against control
goalkeeper 60.70 14.69 58.90 12.46 68.80 18.25 55.00 13.23
target goalkeeper 5.40 1.58 7.20 1.87 6.90 1.66 7.50 1.78
Expectancies of suc-
cess against target
goalkeeper 53.60 10.33 50.20 16.21 58.20 13.09 46.30 17.93
The ﬁ ndings of the present study provide support for Hypothesis 1,
related to the eﬀ ect of red uniforms on sporting performance ( Hill & Bar-
ton, 2005 ), and also adds to the burgeoning research that indicates that red
uniforms may be associated with sporting outcomes (e.g., Greenlees, et al.,
2008 ; Hagemann, et al., 2008 ; Feltman & Elliot, 2011 ; Allen & Jones, 2012 ). The
present study provides the ﬁ rst evidence that the actual outcome of a sport-
ing encounter may be inﬂ uenced if one competitor is clad in red. There were
signiﬁ cant diﬀ erences in performance between the red and blue and between
the red and green conditions, there was no diﬀ erence between the red and
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COLORED UNIFORMS, EFFECTS 7
yellow conditions. Although the diﬀ erence was not signiﬁ cant ( p = .06), the
eﬀ ect size was large (Cohen's d = 0.75), so the power of the analysis was quite
low. Thus, it is clear that future studies need higher statistical power to test
explicitly the diﬀ erence between the red and yellow conditions.
Hypothesis 2 concerned the eﬀ ect of red uniforms on reported
expectancies of success. Interestingly, we did not ﬁ nd evidence that the
red eﬀ ect operates through changes in expectancies of success, as there
were no diﬀ erences in reported expectancies across the four conditions.
This contradicts the ﬁ ndings of Greenlees, et al. (2008 ), who found that
goalkeepers had lower expectancies of success when competing against
red-clad opponents who avoided eye contact (as the goalkeepers in this
study were told to) than when competing against opponents dressed in
white who avoided eye contact. Although it is unclear why this diﬀ erence
emerged, it could be an artefact of the many diﬀ erences in the research
designs of the two studies (e.g., within- vs between-subjects designs,
laboratory-based viewing of ﬁ lm footage of hypothetical opponents vs
ﬁ eld-based competition with real-life opponents).
If the eﬀ ect of red color is not explained by perceivers' consciously held
expectancies of success, future researchers must identify the mechanisms
through which red color exerts an inﬂ uence. There are many potential
mechanisms. Firstly, Elliot and colleagues (e.g., Elliot, Maier, Moller, Fried-
man, & Meinhardt, 2007 ; Maier, Elliot, & Lichtenfeld, 2008 ; Elliot, Maier,
Binser, Friedman, & Pekrun, 2009 ) claim that the perception of red pro-
motes unconscious avoidance motivation. In a series of cognitive tasks, they
showed that red stimuli inﬂ uenced EEG readings, attentional processes,
and behavioral responses, reﬂ ective of avoidance motivation. Secondly,
researchers could examine how an opponent wearing red may inﬂ uence
the attention of the perceiver. Bakker, Oudejans, Binsch, and van der Kamp
(2006 ) and Wilson, Wood, and Vine (2009 ) have shown that penalty kick
performance is impaired when attention is devoted to the goalkeeper prior
to taking a penalty. Wilson, et al. (2009 ) further propose that any factor that
makes the goalkeeper more salient or conspicuous, and hence distracting,
may inﬂ uence performance; they cited red uniforms as one such factor.
Thirdly, it has been proposed (e.g., Rowe, Harris, & Roberts, 2005 ; Soro-
kowski & Szmajke, 2011 ) that any eﬀ ects of color are due to simple visual
discrimination eﬀ ects, in that some colors are simply more visible than oth-
ers and so it is easier to identify the movements of opponents. Finally, there
is also the possibility, alluded to by Hill and Barton (2005 ), that red exerts
an intrapersonal eﬀ ect, in that wearers of red feel more dominant and thus
it is their performances that are enhanced rather than the performance of
the perceiver being impaired. Research that untangles the eﬀ ects of uniform
color on sporting performance is clearly needed.
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I. A. GREENLEES, ET AL.
Although the ﬁ ndings of the present research provide support for the
hypothesized role of red uniforms in sport, there are a number of limita-
tions to the current study that mean the results should be treated with
some caution and explored further. The principal limitation of the research
design is that no attempt was made to control the amount of time partici-
pants spent attending to the goalkeeper and the color of his jersey, or the
hue, brightness, perceived typicality, and saturation of the jersey colors
that were used in this experiment. Both of these have been highlighted as
problematic in previous research (e.g., Elliot, et al., 2007 , 2009 ) and provide
potential confounding eﬀ ects in the present study. However, as the aim of
the research was to provide a real-world examination (where changing
ambient light conditions and background colors will result in a changing
perception of color) of the eﬀ ects of diﬀ erent, commercially available jer-
sey colors to supplement the more carefully controlled laboratory-based
research, then this was unavoidable. Clearly, if future researchers are to
establish the speciﬁ c eﬀ ects of uniform color and the speciﬁ c mechanisms
through which color exerts its eﬀ ects, greater control of factors such as
uniform color qualities (hue, saturation, and lightness), background qual-
ities (to more fully explore the role of contrast and visibility), and partici-
pant attention patterns is required. In addition, if the evolutionary basis of
the eﬀ ects of red are to be established, then more research is warranted to
explore the extent to which these eﬀ ects are seen across genders and cul-
tures. If the eﬀ ect is due to evolutionary pressures, then it can be predicted
that the eﬀ ect would be relatively invariant across cultures and be stron-
ger in males than in females, as red is proposed to have evolved as a signal
of male dominance and status ( Hill & Barton, 2005 ). As it stands, although
the evidence supporting the potential eﬀ ect of red uniforms continues to
grow, much research is still needed to explore why red exerts an inﬂ uence.
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