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“Red hair in popular culture and the relationship with anxiety and depression.”
Kevin O Regan
Student number: 111703139
Supervisor: Raegan Murphy
Submitted April 2014
Thesis presented as part of the requirements for the B.A. (Honours) Degree in
Psychology, University College, Cork
Background: People with red hair account for just 1 to 2% of the population
worldwide and suffer a degree of prejudice, particularly in the U.K.
Aims: To investigate any relationship between hair colour and anxiety or
depression, and to survey the experiences and opinions of people with red hair throughout
Method: 1742 people from 20 countries completed a survey including the HADS
anxiety and depression scale, seven survey questions about experiences of bullying, and
open ended questions about the representation of people with red hair in popular culture.
Results from the HADS were compared between groups using t-tests and the survey and
open ended questions were analysed qualitatively.
Results: In this sample women with red hair in the U.S.A. were found to be less
anxious and depressed on average while red haired men in the U.K. were found to be
more anxious according the HADS scale, small effect sizes were observed. Possible
explanations are discussed. There was found to be a high prevalence of bullying against
people with red hair and dis-satisfaction with the role of entertainment media in
portraying red haired people
Conclusion and implications: People with red hair are at high risk of bullying
victimisation and are depicted using negative stereotypes in popular culture. This may
contribute to anxiety disorders and depression. Implications for government policy
regarding education and hate crime laws are discussed. Further research should be carried
out on adolescents, in the U.K. in particular to determine the relationship of hair colour to
anxiety and depression using more appropriate measures.
The author would like to acknowledge the contribution of the lectures at the
department of applied psychology at UCC. Particularly Raegan Murphy for supervising
this project. I would also like to thank the following lecturers for their patience and help
above and beyond what was expected of them during the course of my degree, Jurek
Kirakowski, Samantha Dockray, Mike Murphy, and Marcin Sczerbinksi aswell as Mary
O Donovan, Ciara Staunton, and Pat O Donovan for their help.
I would like to wish the very best of luck to all my classmates in their future
endeavours and thank them all for making me feel welcome and included aswell as for
their help and support in completing this and all our projects over the last three years.
I would like to thank Joleen Cronin the organiser of the Irish redhead convention
and all of the attendees especially Fergal Martin Barr, Kathleen Hawley and Margaret
Behre. To Scott Harris I wish you the very best of luck with your film “Being Ginger”
and to Jessica Shailes I say best of luck and thank you for your help in distributing the
survey. I hope to see you all again soon.
The proprietors of redhead world facebook page, gingerism.com, the communities
of r/ginger, r/redhair, r/sample size on reddit.com, and Anthea Pokroy at Icollectgingers;
thank you all for helping to distribute the survey all over the world; and to each and every
individual who completed the survey also. Thank you.
I would like to thank my friends Jen, Niall, Louise, Emily, Liam, Stephen, Tony,
Alan, Conal, Aisling, Sean, Hugh, Eoin, Dick, Mike, Tess, Jess, Amanda, Rory, Tomas,
and everyone else who’s enriched my life down through the years for the craic and for
always being there for me.
Finally I would just like to thank my wonderful parents Jerome and Clare O
Regan for never doubting me, my family and all the people in the pubs and clubs of Cork
city for being such good craic.
Kevin O Regan.
The cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken said that "Of course, part of the
problem with redheads is that there aren't enough of them. They make up just two percent
of the population. So they're pretty extraordinary. Redheads are too numerous to be
ignored, too rare to be accepted." (McCracken, 1997). Many refer to the name calling
and jokes directed at virtually every red haired child at school as one of the last socially
acceptable forms of prejudice. “Gingerism” as some have labelled it may not be as
serious as, or effect as many people as, racism, sexism or homophobia but the time has
come that using a derogatory term based on someone’s hair colour becomes as
unacceptable as mocking someone over anything else about the way they were born.
1.1 Genetics and prevalence:
Red hair is the result of a mutation of the MC1R gene on chromosome 16, which
effects the ratio of production of two types of melanin pigment; phaeomelanin (red) and
eumelanin (black). 80% of red haired people carry the MC1R variant and the associated
alleles (Valverde, Healy, Jackson , Rees,Thody,1995), the remaining 20% have red hair
through the effect of as yet unidentified modifier genes.(Box, Wyeth, O'Gorman, Martin,
& Sturm, 1997).
This mutation is thought to be an adaptation to the cold and dark climate of
northern Europe as the pale skin aids in production of vitamin D when exposed to UV
light, therefore making up for the relative lack of sunlight farther from the equator and the
lack of vitamin D from dietary sources in prehistoric Europe. This means, however, that
people with red hair are left at increased risk of developing melanoma because of the
relatively low amount of eumelanin in their skin (Rodwell, 2012). A confounding factor
in this study may be the fact that vitamin D deficiency is associated with higher levels of
depression in adults (Anglin, Samaan, Walter, & McDonald, 2013) and therefore
expression of the MC1R mutation may be a protective factor against depression.
The MC1R gene is also linked to other genes on the chromosome thought to play
a role in the regulation of body weight, and therefore may contribute to childhood obesity
(Krude, Biebermann, Luck, Horn, Brabant, & Grüters, 1998). Other genes on the
chromosome effect the sebaceous glands, and anti-inflammatory mechanisms throughout
the brain and body (Rees, & Flanagan, 1999). There is conflicting evidence about the
association between red hair and pain tolerance, excessive bleeding and the efficacy of
certain anaesthetics (Barry, Cunningham, Jones, & Ansell, 2010).
Some tentative evidence has pointed to the possibility that the MC1R gene may
have been selected for due to its possible role in regulating cytokines that effect protective
immunities, allergy and auto-immune pathologies (Rees & Flanagan, 1999). More recent
research indicates that rather than being selected for that there was simply a “neutral
expectation” of red hair and pale skin and the genes spread through the effect of genetic
drift outside of Africa, where it would have been elected against because of the high
likelihood of skin cancer for people lacking in eumelanin (Harding, Healy, Ray, Ellis,
Flanagan, Todd, ... & Rees, 2000).
It has recently been discovered that some Neanderthals also possessed the MC1R
mutation and therefore also had red hair and pale skin, this gives further evidence to the
idea that the mutation is an adaptation to living in climates with low sunlight. (Lalueza-
Fox, Römpler, Caramelli, Stäubert, Catalano, Hughes, ... & Hofreiter, 2007). Though this
may be an example of convergent evolution it’s not impossible that cross breeding
resulted in the transfer of this and other genes between Neanderthals and Homo-sapiens.
Red hair occurs in 1 to 2% of the population worldwide and is most common in
Scotland (14%) (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/819117.stm ) and Ireland
(10%), where it is thought that up to 40% of the population may carry the necessary genes
(Hooton, 1940) Other populations with a relatively high percentage of people with red
hair include the Welsh (Sunderland, 1956), Askenazi Jews, (Abel, 2001) and the Udmurt
people of eastern Russia (Domnitskaya, 2010) who according to one interpretation of its
etymology gave the country of Russia its name from the Slavic word “rusiy” for “red
haired”, though this is not the accepted interpretation (Harper 2001-2013). There is also a
tribe of people in Indonesia with red hair as a result of a completely separate mutation.
(Kenny, Timpson, Sikora, Yee, Moreno-Estrada, Eng, ... & Myles 2012). Red hair
occurs rarely throughout the rest of the world.
1.2 Myths and misconceptions:
Numerous news outlets during recent years have reported on the assertion by “the
oxford hair foundation” that blonde and red haired people could go extinct in the next 200
years. This idea is possibly based on the misunderstanding that “recessive” genes
eventually die out, when in reality barring any kind of “final solution” against redheads
the necessary genes will always be passed on to the next generation. It has also been
discovered that “the oxford hair foundation” rather than being an independent genetic
research foundation, is actually funded by Procter & Gamble a maker of hair dye and
other beauty products. (Silverman, 2007)
Another idea commonly stated as fact is that women with red hair have better and
more frequent sex than other hair colours. The claims come from a German researcher
called Dr Werner Habermehl in a book about statistics of the sex lives of Germans,
however the study from which the statistics supposedly came from is not available
anywhere online and doesn’t appear to have been published in any peer-reviewed
journals, the majority of online news outlets cite only a “daily mail” article as a source.
While one of the common tropes about redheaded women is that they have a voracious
sexual appetite, this stereotype is not supported by any current research, this story appears
to be the opinion of one researcher blown out of proportion (Boynton, 2006).
1.3 Historical prejudice against people with red hair:
There has been speculation that the prejudice against people with red hair began
as an Anglo-Saxon demonising of the Celtic peoples of Scotland and Ireland where red
hair is most common, and while that may have been a contributing factor, the truth is that
there has always been prejudices against many groups of people simply for being different
to the norm in some way or another and in that respect being “ginger” is no exception.
The majority of associations with red hair have always been decidedly negative,
from being thought of as vampires in ancient Greece and Middle ages Europe to being
portrayed as malevolent, violent and sexually deviant in renaissance depictions of
religious figures like Judas Escariot, Mary Magdalene and Adams first wife Lilith, Eve’s
hair was also depicted as having changed from blond to red following her acceptance of
the apple and being tainted by original sin. (Roach, 2005)
Throughout the 19
century red hair was short-hand for people who are
lustful, arrogant, and above all of “fiery” temperament. Shakespeare would have the
actors playing his most menacing characters wear red wigs and the same archetypes have
been used in the works of people as varied as Jonathan swift in “gullivers travels” and F.
Scott Fitzgerald in the novel and film “red headed woman”. The phrase “red-headed step-
child” is often used as an insult to denote someone particularly deserving of scorn or pity,
as in “I’m going to beat you like a red-headed step child“
1.4 Sex differences:
The prevailing archetypes for men and women with red hair are significantly
different from one another. While both sexes are labelled as angry deviants, women are
usually cast in the role of sexy, strong, independent, sexually liberated, and sometimes
dangerous individuals who buck societal trends; femme fatales and “sexual unicorns”.
Think of Lilith, Pippi Longstocking, Jessica Rabbit, Lisbeth Salander from “the girl with
the dragon tattoo“ Poison Ivy from the Batman comics and so on. (Riedlinger, 2011). An
analysis of 31,500 female performers in the American pornography industry recently
showed that 5.3% of them had red hair, either naturally or by choice, (Millward, 2013),
with redheads making up only 1 or 2% of the American population this means they are
Red-headed men when they are shown at all are usually secondary characters,
bullies, idiots, objects of scorn, ridicule, and pity, and portrayed as wimpy and
unattractive clowns. (Heckert, & Best, 1997). Either way they are reduced to cartoonish
stereotypes, though it must be said that this is beginning to change for the better.
1.5 Celebrations and positive aspects of red hair:
Historically red haired women were most celebrated by the great painters from the
renaissance onwards, especially the Italian painter Titian whose name became
synonymous with a particular shade of red hair and who painted many red haired women
as the ideal portrait of beauty, often based on local Venetian courtesans. Other painters
with a particular fondness for redheads include Dante Gabriel Rosetti and Gustav Klimt.
The biblical figure Lilith who is usually depicted as having red hair is worshipped
by many modern day wiccan and occultist religions and is also thought to be based on
ancient goddesses of women, motherhood and sexuality who were later repressed and
demonised by the church, she is also a feminist icon because in the bible she was created
as equal to Adam ” why should I lie beneath you when I am your equal since both of us
were created from dust”. This likely contributed to the sexual stereotypes associated with
red haired women (Roach, 2005).
Red is also often the hair dye colour of choice for women seeking attention and it
is often stated that there are more shades of red hair dye than any other colour. There have
been speculated to be many different reasons for this including the fact that prior to the
invention of effective hair colouring techniques, if a woman wanted to change her hair
colour, red was usually the easiest option using natural substances like henna. Another
possibility for the popularity of red hair dye was the fact that in the early days of colour
cinema, red hair showed up better on film than other colours and was the colour of choice
for leading ladies of the day (Sherrow, 2006).
Recognising the difficulties faced by modern day redheads there have been many
attempts to celebrate the redhead identity and to combat “gingerism” and reclaim the
“ginger” or redhead terms as positive monikers with events such as the ginger pride
march in Edinburgh in early 2013, and the Irish redhead convention held annually the last
weekend of august in Crosshaven county Cork, which raises funds for the Irish cancer
society and has events like “the most freckles per sq inch competition, gingerbread men
party and certificates for all natural red heads“. . There are numerous websites dedicated
to both celebrating redheads and documenting and discussing instances of prejudice
against them such as http://gingerism.com/ and
In the media campaigners and filmmakers have sought to generate awareness and
acceptance with campaigns like “I collect gingers” by Anthea Pokroy and the film “Being
Ginger” by Scott Harris. In an attempt to redress the balance between the sexes the
photographer Thomas Knights chose redheaded men for the subject of his first exhibition
“Red Hot” in late 2013. Knights is quoted as saying "It's in the public consciousness that
ginger men aren't sexy and aren't strong…They are completely emasculated and
desexualised in popular culture." (Haan, 2013)
The annual international festival of “Roodharigendag” in the Dutch city of Breda
which takes place the first weekend of September, was begun by accident in 2005 when
an artist seeking 15 red haired women as models for paintings in an attempt to emulate
Rosetti and Klimt, accidentally invited 150 women, the mix up became a media event and
attracted a lot of publicity to the town. The event was eagerly seized upon by the town but
tellingly it was also embraced by red haired people from around the world and can now
boast 4 to 5000 redhead attendees annually (Spencer, 2009)
There are several positive stereotyped associations with being a redhead, such as
being more passionate women (Roach, 2008), and both men and women are seen as more
competent and capable of leadership (Takeda, Helms, Klintworth, & Sompayrac, 2005)
being vastly over represented in the ranks of C.E.O.’s in the U.K. especially in
comparison to blondes who are seen as incompetent but amiable. But these only become
positives once one is well into adulthood.
1.6 Theoretical basis for increased risk of anxiety and depression:
1.6.1 Bullying victimisation:
Research suggests that bullying victimisation during childhood is a significant risk
factor for depression in adulthood, with bullied individuals up to 95% likely to suffer
depression as long as 36 years later (Ttofi, Farrington, Lösel, & Loeber, 2011). Childhood
bullying has also been found to be a major predictor of higher levels of general state
anxiety aswell as higher prevalence of social phobias and agoraphobia (Gladstone,
Parker, & Malhi, 2006). Large scale studies have found that childhood bullying
victimisation can significantly effect health related quality of life (Allison, Roeger, &
Reinfeld-Kirkman, 2009) and increase suicidal ideation throughout the lifetime. (Roeger,
Allison, Korossy–Horwood, Eckert, & Goldney, 2010).
Bullying of red haired individuals during childhood is so common that books have
been written on the subject such as “Trials and Tribulations of Being a Redhead: Bullied,
Taunted and Teased for Being a Redhead“ (Renner, 2011) and it is often used as a go-to
example when discussing bullying in general (Stuart & McCullaugh, 1996).
1.6.2 Difficulties forming relationships;
People with red hair, males in particular can find romantic life particularly
difficult and are consistently found to be thought of as less attractive on average than
brown, black or blond haired people. Feinman and Gill (1978), found that in general
women preferred men with darker hair while men preferred women with light coloration,
on the subject of redheads Feinman and Gill state in the abstract of this study “Special
attention was paid to the tremendous aversion of both sexes to redheads”
Clayson and Maughan (1986); in a study on stereotypes and hair colour found that
redheaded females were seen as unattractive but competent while redheaded males “had a
surprisingly negative stereotype, they were seen as very unattractive, less successful, and
rather effeminate” (Clayson and Maughan 1986, abstract). Redheaded males have also
been found to be seen as unattractive on a level par with obese people (Clayson &
More recent research has shown that redheads of both sexes are less successful in
bar and nightclub settings with women being approached less often than blonde or
brunette counterparts and men being refused more often when asking for a dance
(Guéguen, 2012). Though some other research does point to the fact that red hair can be
an advantage for women at least with red headed women receiving more responses to
lonely heart adverts than other hair colours (Lynn & Shurgot, 1984).
1.6.3 Prejudice in modern day culture:
Normally fearful of disparaging any group for fear of wide scale backlash and
prosecution, ad agencies and public figures still see red haired people as an acceptable
target where any other minority group would be immune to even the most good natured
jokes. In 2000 an advertisement for British energy supplier “nPower” featured a picture of
a red haired family next to the caption “there are some things in life you can’t choose”
(BBC news april 2000, http://goo.gl/DDYRqY) , in 2009 Tesco was forced to withdraw a
Christmas card that read “Santa loves all kids even GINGER ones” (BBC News, 2009
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/north_yorkshire/8411894.stm) , in 2010
Britain’s former equality minister Harriet Harmon was forced to apologise after referring
to a colleague as a “ginger rodent” (Carlin and Tait, 2010). In July 2013 TV “personality”
Katie Hopkins made a number of disparaging remarks against “gingers” saying they were
“hard to love” and that there was “nothing worse”. (London, 10 July 2013)
Several isolated incidents of prejudice and outright hate crimes have occurred in
recent years in the U.K. (Moore, Matthew 2008; BBC News, 2003 http://goo.gl/AI3ceh ;
Walker 2013) and in the U.S (Winton 2009). In April of 2013 in Lincoln three men were
sentenced to a combined ten years in prison after assaulting a 14 year old boy, breaking
his arm, the judge in the case stated "There was no reason for the attack. Worse than that,
it was just because he had red hair." (BBC news Lincolnshire 16 April 2013,
http://goo.gl/x7KtZj ) any attack of a similar nature against any other minority group
would have resulted in much longer sentences due to laws governing hate crimes.
This kind of casual prejudice can have a huge effect on young peoples well being
and self esteem with children often being bullied to extreme degrees (Daily Telegraph, 12
May 2009 http://goo.gl/4IvWVQ) and likely has a negative effect on mental health in
later life. (Ttofi, Farrington, Lösel & Loeber, 2011).
Many but by no means all of the incidents have been attributed to a joke campaign
called “kick a ginger day” that has been circulating on facebook since shortly after the
2005 airing of the satirical cartoon “South park“, in an episode entitled “Ginger kids”, the
character “Cartman” who acts as a parody of bigoted individuals of all kinds, begins to
promote prejudice against gingers with the frivolous excuse of “gingers have no souls”.
The plot of this episode was intended to mirror the rise of anti-Semitism and make a point
about baseless prejudice in general and how it quickly spirals out of control starting from
even the most insignificant differences (Parker, 2005) . The “Kick a ginger day”
campaign was also intended as a joke. Many in the U.S. attribute “gingerism” entirely to
“South park” but the reality is, that it is merely a continuation of the long history of
bullying red haired people and that is most prevalent in the U.K. today. All of these
examples speak to the widespread culture of casual prejudice which exists among the
ignorant and bigoted people which consist a substantial portion of our society.
Although it is debatable whether or not people with red hair could be considered
an ethnic group, they are in the minority in the general population and do face a certain
amount of prejudice and some research has shown that minority groups can be at
increased risk of anxiety and depression (Weich, Nazroo, Sproston, McManus,
Blanchard, Erens, ... & Tyrer, 2004).
1.7 The current study:
The aim of this study is to investigate whether "redheads" or "gingers", people
with red hair, are at any increased risk or higher prevalence of depression and/or anxiety
due to factors such as bullying, casual prejudice and negative associations in pop culture
and the media (Sheikh & Alam 2011.;Weir & Fine-Davis 1989). Another contributing
factor could be difficulties forming relationships (Guéguen 2012). One more factor could
be the unproven possibility that gingers have greater sensitivity to physical pain (Binkley,
Beacham, Neace, Gregg, Liem, & Sessler 2009; Chua, Tsueda, & Doufas 2004)
A survey was compiled with some biographical questions, questions about
bullying and opinions about hair colour stereotypes. Included in the survey was the
hospital anxiety and depression scale as a measure for general state anxiety and
depression, the HADS is a measure that was developed as a means of detecting
psychological distress distinct from general fatigue or insomnia in hospital patients
(Zigmond & Snaith, 1983).
The HADS is a 14 item questionnaire, with 7 items each relating to anxiety and
depression, participants are asked to rate their feelings over the last week on a scale of 0-
3. The HADS has consistently high specificity and sensitivity for both anxiety (0.78, 0.9)
and depression (0.79, 0.83) (Bjelland, Dahl, Haug, & Neckelmann, 2002). Scores on the
HADS will be compared between groups based on hair colours of participants.
Participants will also be compared by sex and geographical region.
The HADS was designed for use on clinical populations and therefore may over
diagnose anxiety in non-clinical populations, (Roberts, Fletcher, & Merrick, 2013). It is
however generally recognised to be a good tool for detecting the possibility of depressive
disorders (Silverstone, 1994). There have been questions as to whether the HADS
actually differentiates between anxiety and depression and whether it should be seen as a
one-dimensional measure of psychological distress (Cosco, Doyle, Ward, & McGee,
2012). The HADS has been selected for use in this study mainly for it’s brevity, which
will make it possible to get a larger number of respondents to complete the questionnaire,
this will hopefully make up for any weaknesses in the measure itself.
Participants will also be invited to give their opinions on the representation of red
haired people in popular culture and the media in addition any other comments they wish
upon completion of the survey. These open ended questions will be analysed and coded in
a qualitative manner.
2.1 Purpose: To investigate whether there is any correlation between “red” hair
colour and anxiety and/or depression due to social factors like bullying and prejudice.
2.2 Participants: Participants will be recruited mainly via websites and
organisations of special interest to people with red hair; such as the facebook page for the
Irish redhead convention. Participants of every other hair colour will then be solicited
using more general interest websites like reddit.com.
2.3Materials: A Google docs form will be used to administer the Hospital anxiety
and depression scale (hereafter referred to as HADS) along with some brief biographical
questions. Data will be analysed from the Google docs output in SPSS.
2.4 Design: This study is a survey based investigation.
2.5 Data analysis: Scores on the HADS will be compared between groups to
determine if there are any significant differences in HADS scores between people of
differing hair colours.
2.6 Ethical considerations: This study is aimed at people over the age of 18 and
although it is not targeted specifically at any vulnerable group the HADS may trigger or
bring to light symptoms of anxiety or depression in participants. Participants will be
informed of this possibility prior to taking part, participants will also be informed of what
scores may constitute borderline or higher cases of anxiety and depression and will be
advised to contact their medical professional and be provided with some means to find
support from voluntary organisations or mental health professionals in their area should
they feel the need.
2.7 Assumptions: As with any study carried out over the internet we can only
presume to rely on the honesty of our participants, though there would be no benefit to
lying in this instance.
3.1 Overall respondent statistics:
A total of 1742 respondents from 20 countries took part in this study. The
methods used in data collection mean that the largest cohort of respondents came from
the U.S.A. making up over 46% of participants. The statistics for respondents are shown
below in Table 1.1. The initial data for countries of origin have been collapsed into
broader geographical areas for ease of analysis. The data will be further divided into only
four categories; Ireland, the U.K., U.S.A., and the rest of the world, the statistics for these
final categories are shown Table 1.2. Data will also be analysed overall regardless of
participants country of origin.
No. of participants by geographical region:
Participants in categories for final analysis:
68.9% of respondents were female representing 1200 respondents. 539 males
responded making up 30.9% of participants. Only 3 respondents identified themselves as
“other”, meaning trans or asexual, making just 0.2% of respondents.
As for hair colour, the majority of respondents had red hair accounting for 1134
respondents and 65.1% of the total. The other colour categories blonde, brown, black,
white/grey and bald formed a combined total of 608 and the remaining 34.9% of
3.2 Survey questions overall results:
3.2.1 Question one:
“Have you ever been discriminated against in any way because of your hair
The majority of respondents answered No to this question, a total of 1134 or
65.1% of the total, the remaining 608 or 34.9% answered Yes. Among respondents with
red hair 60.6 % of males and 47.3% of females said yes they had been discriminated
against in some way because of their hair colour. Very few people of other hair colours
felt this had occurred to them with 4.4% of males and 9.8% of females responding yes to
3.2.2 Question two:
“Have you ever been mocked or bullied because of your hair colour?”
A majority of respondents,1044 or 59.9% answered Yes to this question, the
remaining 698 or 40.1% answered No. Of people with red hair, the vast majority felt they
had been mocked or bullied because of their hair colour with 91.7% of males said Yes
and 86.8% females said yes. Among other hair colours 10.5% of females and 5.9% of
males answered in the affirmative.
3.2.3 Question three:
“would you date someone with red/ginger hair?”
Only a very small minority of respondents admitted that they think red hair would
deter them from being romantically involved with someone with only 161 respondents or
9.2% of the total answering No to this question. A further 465 or 26.7% answered
“Maybe/Doesn’t matter to me” while the remaining 1116 or 64.1% answered Yes. 4.1%
of male 13.8% of female redheads said no, they would not date another redhead.
3.2.4 Question four:
“do you feel that people with red hair are portrayed fairly in popular entertainment
and the media?”
In total 45% answered Yes and 55% answered No. Among people with red hair
themselves females were more likely to feel people with red hair were portrayed even
handedly with 42.4% answering Yes to this question. 35.3% of males felt the same way.
3.2.5 Question five:
“do others ever attribute any aspect of your moods or behaviour to your hair
54.2% of respondents answered Yes to this question and 45.8% answered No.
Females were most likely to answer yes to this question at 67.4% as opposed to 24.7% of
males.55% of red haired males and 81.5% of red haired females answered yes.
3.2.6 Question six:
“do you feel that your hair colour has had an effect on how others perceive you?”
Respondents were given three options for answering this question “No”, “Yes, in
a positive way”, and “Yes, in a negative way”. 33.8% of respondents answered No while
43.5% answered that their hair colour had a positive effect on how others perceived them
while the remaining 22.7% answered that they felt their hair colour had a negative effect
on their perception by their peers. Females were more likely to report negative effects
with 24.3% responding in this manner while 19.5% of males reported negative effects.
25.6% of males and 51% of females felt it had a positive effect. Among people with red
hair Males were more likely to report negative effects with 44.5% responding in this
manner as opposed to 27.9% of females, 38.1% of males and 56.9% of females felt it had
a positive effect.
3.2.7 Question seven:
“do you feel that your hair colour has had an effect on your personality or self
Here again respondents were given the same three options to answer as in
Question six. Only 18.1% of respondents felt hair colour had a negative impact on their
self esteem. 29.6% felt there was no effect of hair colour and 52.4% felt it had a positive
effect on their personality and self esteem. Among respondents with red hair 56.9% males
and 70.1% females responded positively 33.9% males 22.6% females negatively.
3.3 Qualitative analysis of open ended questions:
Participants in the study were asked two open ended questions, one asking what
their thoughts on the public perception and depiction in media and entertainment of
people with red hair and another where they were simply asked to give any other thoughts
they felt were relevant to the topic of the study. Over 800 comments were collected and
coded according to the subject they spoke about and further analysed by isolating and
counting up the most used descriptive words relating to each topic. The major themes
identified are summarised below.
Figures were created showing the 100 must used descriptive words for each of the
main themes that arose from the data. This was accomplished by coding and organising
each line of every comment by the subject of the sentence. Descriptive words were then
isolated and compiled into lists which were then entered into a word cloud generating
program at http://www.wordle.net/ created by Jonathan Feinberg (2013). The program
then calculates the frequency of each word and displays them accordingly, the words
which occur more frequently are displayed largest. The resulting word clouds were then
edited to remove duplicate spellings of the same word (e.g. red-head, red-headed, redhead
etc.), and font and layout were edited for better fit and visual impact.
3.3.1 Wild women, wimpy men:
A large proportion of the commenters chose to discuss the different ways in which
men and women with red hair are traditionally portrayed in entertainment and there was a
general consensus that the tropes for which red hair stood for in men and women were
very different although they were not without their similarities. Figure 1.1 shows the most
used words referring to red haired women.
Figure 1.1: 100 most used words referring to red haired women.
By far the most commented on aspects of red haired women was the perception
that they are overly sexualised in films and TV, and used more frequently as models and
in commercials, nearly 10% of all comments made some reference to the fetishisation of
red-haired women in entertainment. Celebrities like Julianne Moore, Christina Hendricks,
Jane Asher and Jessica Chastain were often brought up as role-models, the character
Merida in the recent Disney film “Brave” was often referenced aswell. Despite their
idolisation in the media, women still reported a lot of childhood bullying. This will all be
dealt with further in the discussion.
Figure 1.2: 100 most used words referencing red-haired men.
Men on the other hand were said to usually be included only as ancillary
characters, antagonists, bullies and “nerds”. Commenters expressed a general lack of
suitable red haired male role-models, Damian Lewis was one of very few mentioned. Ron
Weasley from the “Harry Potter” series was often discussed as the archetypal male ginger
support character. Red-haired men were seen as being emasculated in popular culture.
They were also far more likely to be referred to as “ginger” as opposed to the term
“redhead” which was more often used to refer to women. Figure 1.2 above shows the
most used descriptive words referring red haired men.
3.3.2 Villains and victims, freaks and geeks:
Men and women were both equally discussed as being “hot-tempered” and often
being portrayed as evil characters in movies and television. For both sexes participants
noted a severe lack of well rounded characters with red hair and expressed frustration
with the extreme character depictions in the media. Figure 1.3 below shows the most used
word when referring to red haired men and women in films and television.
Figure 1.3: 100 most used words describing redheads in TV and movies
The most discussed topic by far was the bullying victimisation suffered by people
with red hair, and the depiction of same in the media. Although the majority of people
who commented agreed that it was usually just light-hearted ribbing and not particularly
malicious there was also a lot of discussion about how the media perpetuates the image of
redheads as acceptable targets and victims of bullying. Figure 1.4 below shows the most
used words referring to childhood bullying.
Figure 1.4: 100 most used words referring to bullying victimisation
3.3.3 Ugly duckling to swan:
In the general comments section there was a lot of discussion around the topic of
having a difficult social life in childhood turn into an advantage later in life, and how the
experience of childhood bullying or merely standing out for better or worse gave people
enough experience early in life that helped them greatly throughout trying times in their
adult lives. Many used their experience of being “different” to develop non-conformist
attitudes and unique personalities apart from the norms others were expected to adhere to.
There was a sense that people felt that what was a disadvantage as children turned into a
source of pride afterwards. This will be explored further in the discussion.
3.3.4 South Park:
By far the most discussed pop-culture reference was “South park” and “that
episode”. “South Park” is a satirical cartoon show broadcast on “Comedy Central” that
follows the adventures of a group of children in the fictional town of “Southpark”
Colorado. The show is known for it’s coarse language and generally foul humour but also
for it’s uncompromising satirisation of all corners of society. The 2005 airing of an
episode entitled “Ginger kids”, was the cause of a lot of consternation because on the face
of it, it seemed to be promoting prejudice against people with red hair because they “have
no souls”. While the plot of the episode did centre around a character inciting prejudice
against gingers, the message of the episode which many missed out on was about the
nature of baseless prejudice and how it can quickly spiral out of control. By the end of the
episode the central character has switched sides and leads the gingers in a rebellion
against everyone else in a manner aping the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. (Parker,
The show itself was never meant to be taken seriously, nonetheless there was
widespread backlash as following the episode there was a rise in incidents of people with
red hair being harassed and bullied and a Facebook campaign called “Kick a ginger day”
that resulted in numerous serious incidents throughout the U.S.A. and U.K. in particular.
Though many spoke of it in the same satirical nature that it was meant to convey itself, it
was generally conceded that it was the cause of a lot of derision of gingers and some
violence in recent years. Opinions as to whether it was good or bad overall were mixed.
3.3.5 Other topics:
Taken together, discussion of a positive nature and neutral opinions made up
about 15% of the comments. Comments expressing neutral attitudes, such as having
never noticed any kind of prejudice whatsoever and positive aspects such as the recent
increase in visibility of red haired people in popular entertainment like the “Harry Potter”
series. This shows that a significant portion of the respondents to this study had either
never experienced or had never been bothered by any mockery directed at redheads or felt
that things were improving immensely from the time when they were growing up. This
will be explored further in the discussion.
3.4. Hospital anxiety and depression scale
3.4.1 Overall results:
Overall males and females scored evenly on the HADS depression scale with
mean scores of 6.22 and 6.21 respectively. Independent samples t-tests showed that there
was a significant difference between males and females on the anxiety subscale. Females
scored significantly higher (M=7.00, SD= 5.05) than males (M= 6.21, SD= 4.82;
t(1737)= 3.04, p= 0.029), a Cohen’s d effect size of 0.16 suggests this is a very small
Independent-samples t-test’s were conducted to compare the HADS scores of
people with red hair versus those of people with other hair colours. Overall a significant
difference was found between people with red hair and those of other colours on the
HADS D depression scale only. In this sample people with red hair scored significantly
lower on the depression scale (M = 5.89, SD = 4.39) than people with other hair colours
(M = 6.85, SD =4.85; t(1740) = -4.19, p <0.00). This means that in this sample people
with red hair scored on average lower than people of other hair colours for depression on
the HADS scale, the Cohen‘s d effect size of 0.21 suggests this was a small effect.
When the data was divided by gender of participants significant differences were
found for females on both anxiety and depression subscales. Females with red hair scored
significantly lower on anxiety (M =6.71, SD =4.91) than women with other hair colours
(M =7.94, SD =5.35; t(1198) =-3.61, p<.000 two tailed). Women with red hair also
scored lower on depression (M =5.81, SD =4.36) then their blonde and brunette
counterparts (M = 7.50, SD= 4.86; t(1198)= -5.56, p<0.000 two tailed). These were
Cohen’s d effect sizes of 0.24 and 0.37 respectively, these are small effect sizes.
3.4.2 Significant results from the U.S.A
Independent samples t-tests were also carried out on the data split by
geographical region. In the sample of respondents from the U.S.A. (N=809) (which was
the most representative sample obtained in terms of sex, 64.3% female, 35.6% male, and
in terms of hair colour distribution 51.4% Red, 48.6% other colours); significant
differences were found between people with red hair and those of other hair colours on
both HADS A and HADS D anxiety and depression scales. Overall women with red hair
scored significantly lower on the anxiety scale (M = 7.02, SD = 4.77) than those of other
hair colours (M = 7.19, SD = 5.24; t(807) = -4.66, p =0.641 two tailed) and significantly
lower (M = 6.07, SD = 4.2) on the depression scale than other hair colours also (M =
6.85, SD = 4.84; t(807) = -2.44, p =0.015 two tailed). These are Cohen’s d effect sizes of
0.03 and 0.17 respectively which suggests these effects are negligible to small at best.
Significant differences were found in female Americans but not among males. In
the sample from the U.S.A. red haired females scored significantly lower on depression
(M= 5.99, SD= 4.21) and anxiety (M= 7.09, SD= 4.77), than women other hair colours
on depression (M= 7.38, SD= 4.79; t(518)= -3.47, p=0.001 two tailed) and anxiety (M=
7.99, SD= 5.38; t(518)= -1.99, p = 0.047 two tailed). This means a Cohen’s d effect size
of 0.31 for depression and 0.18 for anxiety, these are small and very small effect sizes
3.4.3 Significant results from the U.K.
In the U.K. a significant difference was found between males with red hair and
males with other hair colours on anxiety. Males with red hair in the U.K. scored
significantly higher on the HADS A anxiety scale (M=7.56, SD= 5.84) than brown or
black haired males (M= 5.60, SD= 4.57; t(76)= 1.62, p= 0.016). This is a Cohen’s d
effect size of 0.37, a small effect. No significant difference was found for depression.
This would seem to support the original hypothesis that ginger stereotypes may have a
negative effect on anxiety levels of red haired men in the U.K. at least. The sample from
the U.K. was relatively small at an N of 78 males only. This will be addressed further in
4.1 Survey and open ended questions:
60.6% of males and 47.3% of females with red hair said that they had suffered
some kind of discrimination in the past due to their hair colour. Although discrimination
wasn’t explicitly defined in the survey it was assumed participants would understand it to
mean unjust or prejudicial treatment beyond simple bullying or name calling.
Some of the participants chose to provide some examples in the comments section
at the end of the survey.
“I had a teacher look right at me the first day of class and say "I don't like
redheads, so don't expect things to be easy in this class for you" in front of the whole
“I had a beer bottle thrown at my head for being a redhead. The guy was drunk,
but he said the bathroom wasn't for gingers… a bottle broke on the wall next to my head
a moment later”
These are just two examples chosen at random from the comments section.
Incidents like these may occur in isolation perhaps once or twice in a persons life but they
certainly constitute discrimination. If one were to replace the terms “redhead” or “ginger”
with any other term denoting race, religion, or ethnic group of any kind then the above
examples would certainly be treated as hate crimes and could have resulted in
prosecutions. If incidents of this nature were categorised as hate crimes then it might go
some way towards deterring people from acting in this manner and making such incidents
as socially unacceptable as any other racially motivated attack. Efforts should be made to
support campaigners like the proprietor of gingerism.com to change discrimination laws.
Similarly 91.7% of males and 86.8% of females with red hair said they had been
bullied because of their red hair. This high percentage means all people with red hair are
practically guaranteed to endure some level of bullying at some point in their lives. It was
clear from the comments that were received that bullying occurred mainly during
childhood and adolescence but not exclusively.
“I was told once that I was cursed by God, the red hair was my mark”
“My father called me the runt of the litter, the cuckoo in the nest”
“As an adult, women especially have bullied me in the workplace to the point
where I left my job”
A significant number of people stated that they felt the experience contributed to a
stronger sense of self later in life.
“Being a ginger, made me stronger and more resilient. You get picked on as a
kid, but it makes you a better adult.”
This is consistent with the sociological term “tertiary deviance” in which those
labelled as deviants eventually come to accept their label and in a sense reclaim it as a
mark of pride, turning what was initially a culturally imposed deficit into a benefit to their
self esteem later in life as discussed in Heckert and Best (2011). People can learn to turn
being the centre of attention from a negative to a positive once they have sufficient life
experience to realise this and turn it to their advantage. This theme was discussed
comprehensively in Heckert and Best (2011) “Ugly Duckling to Swan: Labeling Theory
and the Stigmatization of Red Hair”.
In response to the question “would you date someone with red/ginger hair?” only
9.2% of the overall sample said that red hair would definitely deter them from having a
relationship with someone. Red haired males in particular felt that it was a detriment to
them in their romantic lives.
“A girl I was deeply in love with, once said, without me knowing until much later,
that she would never date a ginger”
Though this feeling was not exclusive to males.
“I have had multiple men tell me redheads are unattractive and they could never
date me for that reason”
Significantly 13.8% of females with red hair said they would not have a
relationship with a red haired partner. Two main reasons for this arose in the comments,
the first was that some felt that being with a red haired partner would get them mocked
for being a redheaded couple.
“I think it is perceived as weird if redheads date or marry each other. People
automatically think "are they related?"“
The second reason was that many wished for any potential children they might
have to avoid the same level of bullying they themselves suffered as children.
“mother hates her red hair, and literally prayed her children wouldn't turn out to
This was a common theme that arose in the film “Being Ginger” by Scott Harris.
A lot of women would not date ginger men because they don’t want their children to
suffer the same prejudice.
When asked if they thought “people with red hair are portrayed fairly in popular
entertainment and the media?” 42.4% of women and 35.3% of men with red hair felt
people with red hair were treated fairly in popular culture. Participants were invited to
give any specific comments they had on this particular matter and it was clear from the
comments that were received that the main problem was the stereotypical tropes
associated with red hair being overused in popular culture.
“Redheaded women can be seen as sexy (this is not necessarily positive), whereas
redheaded men are often seen as boyish or immature and are not usually given a leading
Women with red hair are usually cast in the role of sexpots, villains, and love
interests, red haired men were vilified aswell but also cast as weak characters either in
terms of physicality or morality, clowns, geeks, bullies, and psycho’s. Red haired men are
seen as being under-represented whereas women have the opposite problem because they
are seen as only “acceptable if they are hot”. The emasculation of red haired men in
popular culture was the motivation behind Thomas Knight’s “Red Hot” exhibition, an
attempt to “re-brand” ginger males as powerful and attractive (Haan, 2013). The
fetishisation of red haired women has been well documented in the past such as in the
book “The roots of desire: The myth, meaning, and sexual power of red hair“ (Roach
55% of males and 81.5% of females with red hair said that people sometimes
attribute aspects of their mood or behaviour to their hair colour. This means that the
stereotype of the “fiery” redhead is very pervasive. Redheads are expected to be angry by
nature, numerous sites dedicated to redheads quote an example of an Irish judge
sentencing a man with red hair in 2001 as saying “I am a firm believer that hair colouring
has an effect on temper and your colouring suggests you have a temper” though no
official source can be found for this. Some of the comments expressed that the
expectation of redheads to be ”hot-tempered” meant that they felt they could not express
their anger without further perpetuating the stereotype. This meant that it was more
difficult for them to defend themselves from bullying because by standing up for
themselves they fed into the bully’s expectations and incurred even more mockery. Other
common stereotypes of redheads are that they must be “crazy” or funny. Most redheads
choose to either embrace these stereotypes wholly and “own” the stereotypical fiery
redhead image or reject these notions entirely.
Finally the last two survey questions asked if people felt that their hair colour had
an effect on either their own personality and self esteem or others perception of them.
44.5% of men and 27.9% of women with red hair felt that their hair colour had a negative
effect on how others perceived them whereas 38.1% of males and 56.9% felt it had a
positive impact. Redheads were much more positive about the effect that their hair colour
had on their personality and self esteem with 56.9% of men and 70.1% of women feeling
it had a positive impact on the development of their personality. This is consistent with
the theme that arose in the comments and discussed in Heckert and Best (2011) of people
with red hair seeing the experience of standing out from the crowd and even childhood
bullying as having contributed to greater strength of character as adults.
As expected though the high proportion of people with red hair who reported
bullying, discrimination, and a feeling that red hair negatively effects other peoples
opinions of them would seem to support the justification for carrying out this study and
the hypothesis that red hair could be a risk factor for anxiety and depression in adulthood.
4.2 Key findings from the HADS, possible causes and implications:
Bearing in mind that the largest cohort of respondents to this survey were women
with red hair from the U.S.A. It was found that in the overall sample females with red
hair scored significantly lower on both the anxiety and depression sub-scales of the
HADS. While no significant differences were observed between males in the sample as a
whole. When the data was broken down to look at the cohort of participants from the
U.S.A. only it was also found that women with red hair scored significantly lower on both
anxiety and depression than women of other hair colours while again no significant
differences were observed between males.
There could be any number of reasons for these findings but it is possible the
increased production of vitamin D associated with pale skin and the MC1R variation in
particular could be a protective factor against depression (Rodwell, 2012; Anglin,
Samaan, Walter, & McDonald, 2013).
Another possibility is that the dominating stereotype of red haired women as “the
epitome of sexuality” as some of the comments on this study put it; as well as the
association of the colour red with being “irascible, impulsive, high-spirited” (McCracken
1997, p.103) provides women with some degree of protection against depression and
anxiety by society’s expectations giving them license to act as they see fit and making
them the centre of attention in a positive, more often than negative manner.
In the relatively small sample of participants from the U.K. however a significant
difference was found between red haired men and men with other hair colours on the
anxiety sub-scale only. Red haired men scored on average 2 points higher on the 21 point
scale for anxiety. This could indicate that in the U.K. at least the negative associations
that come with red hair and the high prevalence of childhood bullying victimisation are
indeed a risk factor for anxiety in adult males. Further research with a larger number of
participants and a more suitable measure of anxiety will be required to strengthen this
4.3 Limitations and recommendations for future research:
It is of course impossible to make causal connections between the hair colour of
participants and the results of this study. This study did not control for age or any other
factors that may contribute to anxiety and depression in a non- clinical population.
Although the overall sample size was quite large, when broken down into the
various different geographical regions for analysis some of the samples were small and
unevenly distributed. The sample from Ireland for example was an N of 130, of them 110
were female and only 10 had hair colours other then red. This was because the bulk of
Irish respondents were recruited via the facebook page for the Irish redhead convention.
In future research efforts should be made to recruit participants via multiple methods and
to target all demographics more evenly.
The HADS scale was chosen for it’s brevity and this meant it was possible to get a
large amount of participants to complete the study, but it was designed as a measure of
anxiety and depression for people who had just been admitted to hospital and was not
intended for use on large samples of participants online and in numerous different
Future research should look at the experience of people with red hair during
childhood and adolescence as a recurring theme that arose in the comments was a sense
that being a red haired child was almost universally difficult due to bullying and self-
esteem issues, while adults are generally able to eventually overcome these issues.
“If I had taken this as a teenager, these questions would have been answered
almost the opposite. I hated myself and what I looked like. Being bullied was something I
was used to. I'…still have all the hang ups I did from being a ginger kid.”
Different colours hold different associations in our minds, blue for instance is the
colour of the sea and the sky, something serene, deep, and all encompassing. Red though,
red is incendiary, red stands for danger, red cars seem to go faster and red haired people
are expected to be angry, impulsive, and dangerous. Red haired people are also rare,
meaning even more attention is attracted to them and these associations become
expectations and self fulfilling prophecies.
The same stereotypes can have paradoxically opposite effects, red is associated
with fire which can be both attractive and repulsive, being strong willed can mean a
person has the strength of character to be a decision maker and a leader or it can mean
they are too weak to resist their own impulses and control their behaviour. For better or
worse people with red hair stand out and have certain expectations thrust upon them.
“it is a factor of building myself a responsible character. being ginger means you
cannot hide in the mass and as you are an eye catcher you feel watched continuously or
as soon as you move. it is a lack of privacy and prevents me sometimes from standing up
because I hate to be watched and. I sometimes desire to be just one in a billion.”
“I feel that gingers more than any other hair colour let their hair colour consume
them, to the point of obsession.”
Because they stand out people with red hair are easy targets for bullies. In the
U.K. in particular, bullying of gingers is one of the last socially accepted forms of
prejudice against people for an identifying trait that they were born with. If discrimination
and hate crime laws were expanded to include attacks motivated by a persons hair colour
aswell as race, ethnic group or religion then that may go some way toward discouraging
“gingerism”. Anti-bullying programs should also take into account that red hair is a
significant risk factor for bullying victimisation. The long term negative effects on health
may be too significant for this problem to be ignored.
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