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The effect of red color on perceived self-attractiveness: Red color and self-attractiveness



Recent research showed that individuals are perceived as more attractive when presented with the color red. We seek to extend these findings by studying the effects of red color on individuals' perception of self-attractiveness, rather than the attractiveness of others. Based on the color-in-context theory, we hypothesized that individuals would perceive themselves as more attractive under red chromatic conditions. In three experiments, participants were asked to wear a red or a blue shirt and rated their own attractiveness. As expected, participants in the red shirt condition indicated a higher level of self-attractiveness than participants in the blue condition. Moreover, the results showed that the self-perception red effect was mediated by the individuals' self-perceived sexual receptivity and self-perceived status.
Short paper
The effect of red color on perceived self-attractiveness
Anne Berthold1, Gerhard Reese2 & Judith Martin2
1University of Zuerich
2Friedrich Schiller University Jena
Author Note
Anne Berthold, Department of Social Psychology, University of Zuerich, Zuerich,
Switzerland; Gerhard Reese, Department of Psychology, University of Koblenz-Landau,
Landau, Germany; Judith Martin, Department of Social Psychology, Friedrich Schiller
University Jena, Jena, Germany. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed
to Dr. Anne Berthold, University of Zuerich, Department of Social Psychology, Binzmühlestr.
14/15, CH-8050 Zuerich, Switzerland, E-mail:
The authors declare that there are no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the
research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
We thank Lisa D’Andola, Louise Burtin, Sina Franke, Viktoria Fukazawa, Antonia
Kaluza, Marietta Klingenberg, Marie Lange, Philipp Mariacher, Martin Schönke, Julia
Straube, Carolin Utecht, and Lena Sophie Zimmermann for their help with data collection.
We also want to thank Johannes Ullrich and Sascha Schwarz for his valuable comments on a
previous version of the manuscript.
word count: 4.727 (excluding references)
Keywords: Red effect, attractiveness, status, self-perception
Recent research showed that individuals are perceived as more attractive when
presented with the color red. We seek to extend these findings by studying the effects of red
color on individuals’ perception of self-attractiveness, rather than the attractiveness of others.
Based on the color-in-context theory, we hypothesized that individuals would perceive
themselves as more attractive under red chromatic conditions. In three experiments,
participants were asked to wear a red or a blue shirt and rated their own attractiveness. As
expected, participants in the red shirt condition indicated a higher level of self-attractiveness
than participants in the blue condition. Moreover, the results showed that the self-perception
red effect was mediated by the individuals’ self-perceived sexual receptivity and self-
perceived status.
The effect of red color on perceived self-attractiveness
Attractiveness has always been important to women and men. However, in light of the
omnipresence of the concept of perfect beauty in the media and also in real life, it may be
more difficult than ever to feel attractive. People are constantly trying to increase their
attractiveness because they want potential partners to see them as a good catch. Meta-analytic
evidence suggests that attractiveness is a crucial predictor of the way individuals are treated,
not only in romantic but also in professional contexts (Langlois et al., 2000). Recent research
has shown that a subtle factor – the color red – has important consequences for attractiveness
judgments. Elliot and Niesta (2008) found that men consistently rated women as higher in
attractiveness when a border of red framed their photographs or when they were presented
with a red shirt compared to other colors. This red effect was also found for women
perceiving men (Elliot et al., 2010; Roberts, Owen, & Havlicek, 2010).
However, the research of Roberts et al. (2010) provides not only evidence for a red
effect regarding the perception of unknown target persons; their data also suggest that the
color red may have an influence on the targets themselves. Roberts and colleagues (2010)
compared perceivers’ attractiveness ratings of pictures displaying targets that wore a white or
red shirt with those in which the targets only appeared to be wearing white or red. They found
a positive effect when the targets were photographed in red that was independent of the
actually presented clothing color, and speculated that the red effect in wearers “may be even
stronger than perceiver effects” (p.360). In this paper, we aim to shed more light on the
question whether the color red indeed influences individuals’ self-perception. Specifically, we
extend previous findings on the red effect by studying the effects of red on individuals’
perception of self-attractiveness.
Color-in-Context Theory
Elliot and Maier (2012) specified the basic premises on color and psychological
functioning. They assume that color meanings and effects depend on the respective context.
People’s reactions towards the color red, for example, can range from approach to avoidance
as a result of the varying meaning of the color. While red color has an appetitive meaning in
affiliation contexts, one and the same hue can trigger an aversive reaction in achievement
contexts, because in this context red is associated with danger and failure (Elliot & Maier,
2012). But why do such color associations exist in the first place?
According to the color-in-context theory, two sources are responsible for associations
of color and responses. On the one hand, it is assumed that societal learning (i.e., classical
conditioning) can cause an association between a color and a reaction; the color red for
example has symbolized love and carnal passion for centuries. On the other hand, color
associations can be due to biologically based predispositions (Elliot & Maier, 2012). Red
color, for example, represents a sexual signal that might have evolved from our biological
heritage. This reasoning is supported by research showing that nonhuman female primates
exhibit red coloration for example as indicator of fertility (Elliot & Niesta, 2008). Thus, both
societal learning and biologically based tendencies can jointly contribute to the development
and consolidation of a color association. Elliot and Maier (2012) suspect that many color
associations are originally derived from an evolutionary engrained receptivity, but then are
shaped by societal learning. Thus, it is most likely that the meaning of the color red also has a
biological background, since red coloration already functions as a sexual signal for nonhuman
species. Nonetheless, societal learning seems to have turned the originally pure sexual
meaning of red color into a more romantic association: red equals love. Still, the sexual
undertone seems to play a major role, since it has been demonstrated that under red chromatic
conditions targets were perceived as more sexually attractive but not as more likeable (Elliot
& Niesta, 2008; Elliot et al. 2010).
Self-Perception and Attractiveness
Imagine somebody is repeatedly treated with more appreciation when wearing red
attire; what would you expect to happen? Is it likely that this person starts to feel better when
putting on something red? According to learning theorists, the answer would be yes.
Whenever people constantly experience a positive reaction together with a specific stimulus,
they learn to associate both stimulus and reaction – even without being aware of that. One
way to develop such an association is second-order conditioning (Pavlov, 1927). In our red-
clothes example, the positive response (conditioned stimulus CS1 = others feel attracted and
react positively) towards the person wearing red (unconditioned stimulus = red color) is
hypothesized to lead to a second positive response (CS2 = the red-wearer feels appreciated). In
short, information is transferred from one stimulus to another (red color reaction of others
reaction of the self). A similar explanation is provided in the concept of the spreading
attitude effect, stating that valence can be transferred „to objects or events that are
preassociated with the CS because of prior experimental learning“ (p. 920, Walther, 2002).
Thus, individuals learn to associate red (clothes) with feeling attractive by experiencing the
positive reactions of attracted others. This reasoning is fitting quite well to the assumption of
color-in-context theory stating that societal learning (i.e., conditioning processes) causes color
Bearing in mind that people are likely to associate (i.e., learn to associate) wearing red
with being attractive, we now propose that the color red can heighten individuals’ self-
attractiveness. As mentioned in the introduction, Roberts et al. (2010) already provide a hint
for our hypothesis. Their data revealed a positive effect when the targets were photographed
in red that was independent of the actually presented clothing color. Obviously the t-shirt
color influenced how the targets (i.e. wearer) had felt and/or probably behaved at the very
moment when being photographed – otherwise the participants’ ratings could not have
differed as a function of photographed t-shirt color.
Additional support for our hypothesis on red and self-attractiveness provides self-
perception theory (Bem, 1967). The theory states that people infer beliefs about themselves in
part from observations of their own appearance and behavior. Bem’s assumptions were
confirmed by Kellerman and Laird (1982), who found that having people wear glasses
influenced their self-perceptions regarding their performance and competence. Thus, by
manipulating the look of individuals, it seems possible to influence their self-perception.
Underlying processes of the red effect in the affiliation context
According to the color-in-context theory, biologically based predispositions are
deemed responsible for the appetitive meaning of the color red, as is visible in the example
that nonhuman primates use red as indicator of fertility (Elliot & Niesta, 2008, Elliot & Maier,
2012). Previous studies support the notion of biological parallels between nonhumans and
humans, as they revealed a link between red color, attractiveness judgment and perceived
sexual receptivity (Pazda, Elliot, & Greitemeyer, 2012). Pazda et al. (2012) hypothesized that
men would perceive a female target as more attractive under red chromatic conditions because
they associate red with a higher sexual receptivity, which can be viewed as a proxy (or
prerequisite) for fertility. Their research provides empirical evidence that perceived sexual
receptivity indeed mediates the relation between red and sexual attraction in men viewing
women. Additional evidence for the fertility-hypothesis provide Schwarz and Singer (2013),
showing that red enhanced men’s attraction to young women, but not to menopausal female
targets. Moreover, there is recent research on female participants indicating that women are
(at least unconsciously) aware of the link between red and fertility; it was found that female
participants were more inclined to wear red clothes at the peak of their fertility (Beall &
Tracy, 2013).
Several further experiments have corroborated the reasoning that there is a positive
effect of red on attractiveness judgments, which is caused by sexual receptivity expectations
(Elliot, Greitemeyer, & Pazda, 2013; Guéguen, 2012; Niesta Kayser, Elliot, & Feltman, 2010;
Pazda, et al.; 2014; Young, 2015). In accordance with these findings on red and the perceived
attractiveness of others, we now propose that sexual receptivity also functions as mediator
regarding the red effect on self-attractiveness. Judging oneself as more attractive, when the
desire for a sexual intimacy is increased (through the color red), seems to be an efficient
strategy to attract potential partners.
Other research suggests that status could also explain the effect of red color on
attractiveness ratings. For example, nonhuman male primates use red color to demonstrate
dominance and status (see Elliot et al., 2010). Moreover, it was found that women perceived
male targets as more attractive under the chromatic condition of red because red enhanced the
perception of high status (Elliot et al., 2010, Stephen, Oldham, Perrett, & Barton, 2012). We
therefore assume that the red effect on self-appearance is also mediated by self-perceived
status. In other words, people most likely perceive themselves as more attractive, because of
the ostensibly increased self-status (which is inferred from the red color).
In sum, given that the meaning of red has such genuine biological roots and is
bolstered through societal learning, we argue that wearing red affects individuals’ self-
attractiveness judgments, because the color shapes their look and they are inclined to base
inferences on their appearance (Bem, 1967). Accordingly, the color red should be influential
when inferring one’s sexual receptivity and self-status. We assume that those two variables
mediate the effect of color on self-attractiveness, as was found regarding the perception of
others (Elliot & Maier, 2012; 2014). We refrain from examining gender differences in detail,
as for the time being, we aim to establish the self-perception red effect in general.
Experiment 1
In Experiment 1, we investigated whether the color red increases individuals’
perception of self-attractiveness. It was expected that individuals would perceive themselves
as more attractive when wearing a red vs. blue shirt.
Seventy-four university students (psychology students for the most part) from a large
university in Eastern Germany participated in the experiment (61 women, 13 men) with a
mean age of 21.1 years (SD=2.7). The alleged aim of the study was to investigate the
predictability of personality traits based on facial features. Participants were told that the
procedure would require them to wear a plain ordinary t-shirt (no-name product) provided by
the experimenter so as to avoid other influences. The personality judgments were allegedly
made by the experimenters observing participants individually through a window, while the
participants was completing a questionnaire on personality traits. Participants were randomly
assigned to one of two conditions. In the red condition, participants were provided with a red
t-shirt and in the control condition with a blue t-shirt (either S, M or L). All participants were
seated in cubicles that were equipped with a mirror and the respective t-shirt was provided
within a big envelope on the table. After putting on the shirt, participants completed the
questionnaire assessing perceived self-attractiveness by 12 items (α=.89) rated on an author-
constructed scale from 1=do not agree to 7=do agree. (e.g., “At the moment I consider myself
attractive.”). Finally, participants were thanked for their participation and debriefed via e-
Results & Discussion
An ANOVA with perceived self-attractiveness as the dependent variable and color
condition as the between subjects factor revealed a significant effect of color1, F(1,72)=4.34,
p=.04, ηp2=.06. Participants wearing a red shirt rated themselves as more attractive (M=4.76,
SD=1.10) than participants in the control condition wearing a blue shirt, (M=4.18, SD=1.25).
We included gender as additional factor in the analysis to test for potential gender differences.
The results revealed no interaction of color and gender F(1,72)=.88, p=.35, indicating that
female and male participants did not differ regarding this self-perception red effect (see also
Table 1).
Experiment 2
The aim of Experiment 2 was to test the stability of the red effect on self-
attractiveness. Therefore, we conducted an experiment including a distraction phase. It was
hypothesized that perceived self-attractiveness, measured before and after the distraction,
would be higher in the red condition and that this effect would be stable over time. We
expected that the effect would still be found after diverting participants’ attention (using a
short video sequence), because whenever individuals rate their attractiveness they are likely to
infer their estimation from their current appearance (Bem, 1967).
Moreover, in Experiment 2 we included several additional variables known to
influence individuals’ self-evaluation. These variables were mood, body mass index and
extraversion, which was found to be strongly related to individuals self-esteem and self-
evaluation (e.g., Cheng & Furnham, 2003). Our aim was to control for potential confounds
that might interfere with the occurrence of the self-perception red effect.
The sample and procedure was similar to that of Experiment 1, except for the delay.
Fifty participants (42 women, 8 men) with a mean age of 21.7 years (SD=3.0) rated their self-
attractiveness on 11 items2 before and after watching a 5-minute video (α=.92, α=.94). The
video showed a scene of the US-American film „Dog Day Afternoon“ from the year 1975
displaying a bank-hold up. Mirrors were present throughout the whole session. We assessed
height and weight via open questions; and thus calculated participants body mass index.
Mood was assessed with one single item “How is your mood at the moment? Please cross the
line at the respective position.” (the two ending poles were bad vs. good). The questionnaire
contained 7 extraversion items (e.g., “I like to be at the center of action.”; based on the scale
of Borkenau and Ostendorf, 2008), which were randomly distributed across the attractiveness-
Results & Discussion
The attractiveness ratings were subjected to a 2 x 2 ANCOVA with color (red vs. blue)
as the between-subjects factor and time (before vs. after distraction) as the within-subjects
factor. We included the additional variables mentioned above as covariates. Again, perceived
self-attractiveness was higher in the red (M=4.96, SD=0.95) than the blue condition (M=4.34,
SD=0.98), F(1,41)=4.42, p=.04, ηp2=.10. The effect was stable across time (see Figure 1, Red
effect t1before F(1,41)=3.78, p=.06, ηp2=.08; Red effect t2afterfilm F(1,41)=4.79, p=.03, ηp2=.11).
The analysis showed that the red effect neither interacted with gender, F(1,41)=.63, p=.43,
nor with time, F(1,41)=1.79, p=.19, indicating that both women’s and men’s self-images
profited from wearing red (Tab.1). Analyzing the data without the control variables also
showed that self-attractiveness was higher in the red condition (M=4.93) than in the blue
condition (M=4.38), F(1,50)=2.30, p=.14, η²=.04. However, without the control variables, the
effect was not significant. It is possible that not all participants responded similar to our
manipulation and future research should examine the role of extraversion, BMI and mood
regarding the red effect.
The first two experiments provide evidence that wearing a red shirt increases one’s
self-perceived attractiveness. One limitation of both studies, however, is that the
experimenter’s alleged personality judgment through the lab window allowed participant-
experimenter interaction. Not being blind to the hypotheses, the experimenter could have
influenced the participants unintentionally. A second issue that needs to be resolved is the
question of how the color red influences self-perception. Based on previous research on the
influence of red on the perception of others, we expected that self-perceived sexual receptivity
and status would mediate the red effect (Elliot & Maier, 2012; 2014).
Experiment 3
In Experiment 3, we examined the processes underlying the self-perception red effect.
Previous findings demonstrated that male participants associated female targets wearing a red
shirt with higher sexual receptivity resulting in higher attractiveness ratings (Pazda et al.,
2012; 2014; see also Guéguen, 2012). Regarding male targets, Elliot and colleagues (2010)
showed that female participants perceived men with a red shirt as high in status and therefore
rated these male targets as more attractive (see also Stephen et al., 2012). Accordingly, we
included these two variables – sexual receptivity and status – as possible mediators. Note that
in our study on self-perception (and not on perception by others), we expected that the
increase in self-attractiveness when wearing red would be due to an increase in self-perceived
sexual receptivity as well as due to an increase in self-perceived status.
We modified the experimental procedure to reduce demand effects – due to the
presence of an experimenter – that might have influenced the results of Experiments 1 and 2.
Participants were asked to take a snapshot of themselves. They were told that their snapshot
would be given to experts who would judge the participant’s personality on the basis of facial
features (such as symmetry).
Fifty-six participants from a university in West Germany (30 women, 26 men) with a
mean age of 20.5 years (SD=1.7) were told that their first task would be to put on the
“standardized” t-shirt and to take a picture of themselves (headshot with shoulders). The
experimenter explained to each participant that later on, the photo would be given to
independent experts who would then allegedly rate their personality traits based on specific
facial features. As in Experiment 1 and 2, participants were randomly assigned to one of the
two conditions. In both conditions – the experimental (red shirt) and the control (blue shirt) –
participants were told that the “standardized” t-shirt served the purpose of preventing
individual clothing styles from influencing the experts’ ratings. All participants were given a
questionnaire to fill out containing the following variables rated on a scale from 1=do not
agree to 7= agree: perceived self-status (5 items, “I would consider my current status as
high”; “At the moment I am a person of high standing”; α=.76), sexual receptivity (5 items,
“At the moment I am in need of some physical intimacy”; “I can imagine being sexually
active today”, α=.74) and perceived self-attractiveness (4 items, “At the moment I am:
attractive/ good-looking/ handsome/ sexy.” α=.92).
Results & Discussion
Perceived self-attractiveness. Again, participants wearing a red shirt rated
themselves as more attractive (M=5.43, SD=1.09) than participants in the control condition
wearing a blue shirt (M=4.61, SD=1.06), F(1,52)=8.06, p<.01, ηp2=.13. Participants’ gender3
did not influence the results; no significant interaction of color and gender emerged
F(1,52)<.01, p=.94.
Self-perceived sexual receptivity. As expected, participants wearing red shirts
(M=4.49, SD=0.95) reported higher sexual receptiveness than participants wearing blue
(M=3.94, SD=1.10), F(1,52)=7.64, p<.01, ηp2=.13. There was no interaction with gender,
F(1,52)=.23, p=.63, indicating that both females and males responded similar to our
manipulation. Moreover, the analyses revealed a main effect of gender, F(1,52)=8.70, p<.01,
ηp2=.14, indicating that men (M=4.55, SD=1.00) reported higher sexual receptiveness than
women (M=3.95, SD=1.02).
Self-perceived self-status. Participants wearing red shirts reported higher status
(M=4.61, SD=0.78) than participants wearing blue shirts (M=4.15, SD=0.86), F(1,52)=8.65,
p<.01, ηp2=.14. There was no interaction of color and gender, F(1,52)<.03, again indicating
that female and male participants did not differ regarding the manipulation. Moreover, the
results showed that men (M=4.65, SD=0.73) rated their status in general higher than did
women (M=4.16, SD=0.88), F(1,52)=9.36, p<.01, ηp2=.15.
Mediation Analysis. To investigate the mediating roles of self-perceived sexual
receptivity and perceived self-status between color condition and self-attractiveness, we
examined confidence intervals with standard errors that were estimated via bootstrapping
(Hayes, 2013). We used Hayes PROCESS macro for SPSS (Model 4) to estimate the 95%
confidence intervals of the indirect effects, using 10,000 bootstrap re-samples to approximate
the sampling distributions of the conditional indirect effect of shirt color on self-attractiveness
ratings via sexual receptivity and status. Both indirect effects, tested together within one
analysis, turned out to be significant: An indirect effect of color on self-attractiveness via
sexual receptivity, B=0.34, SE(B)=0.17; 95% bias-corrected and accelerated confidence
interval BCa CI=[0.06, 0.62] and an indirect effect of color on self-attractiveness via self-
status, B=0.44, SE(B)=0.14; BCa CI=[0.09, 0.79] emerged. These results are consistent with
our hypothesis that both self-perceived sexual receptivity and status mediate the relation
between color and self-attractiveness4. Additional mediation analyses examining gender
differences5 resulted in similar conclusions except that for the male sample, the mediation via
self-perceived sexual receptivity did not reach a conventional level of significance.
We also calculated a mediation analyses (PROCESS macro, Model 8) testing for
moderated mediation with gender as moderator, the two mediators (sexual receptivity and
status) and self-attractiveness as the outcome variable. The results indicate that gender
differences regarding both mediators are unlikely; BCa CIsex_rez=[-0.62, 0.33], BCa CIstatus=[-
0.53, 0.39]; in other words both indirect effects did not differ as a function of gender.
Meta-Analytic Summary
In order to gain a more precise estimate of the red effect regarding self-attractiveness,
we calculated the average effect size of our experiments weighted by the inverse of the
variance (Johnson & Eagly, 2000). Combining effect sizes across experiments (N=180),
resulted in an overall effect size of d=0.57 (d=Hedge’s sample-size-corrected effect size,
which is a little smaller than Cohen’s’ effect size), representing a medium effect. The 95%
confidence interval CI for the overall effect size, which does not include zero, indicates that
possible values for the effect are between d=0.27 and 0.87. We also calculated the overall
effect size for females and males separately, obtaining effect sizes of dfemale=0.46 and
dmale=0.89. (CIfemale=0.12, 0.81; CImale=0.28, 1.50). Table 1 contains all effect sizes along with
the overall effect for females and males6 separately.
General Discussion
The present research provides evidence for the influence of the color red on
individuals’ self-perception. Across three experiments, individuals rated their own
attractiveness as higher when wearing red as compared to wearing blue (d=0.57, across all
experiments). This red effect even endured a temporal distraction (Experiment 2).
Mediation analyses revealed that both self-perceived sexual receptivity and self-status
independently mediated the effect of color on self-attractiveness. Individuals with a red shirt
perceived themselves as more attractive, because of an increase in their self-perceived sexual
receptivity and also because of an increase in perceived self-status. These findings are in line
with previous research, as it was shown that women were perceived as more attractive by men
because the color red signaled greater sexual receptivity (Pazda et al. 2012) and men were
seen as more attractive by women because red signaled higher status (Elliot et al., 2010). Our
data did not provide clear evidence for gender differences; however, it could be fruitful to
disentangle whether the effect is subject to different processes among men and women.
Moreover, as our findings indicate that both mediation paths are possible for women and men,
it might be worthwhile to study if men perceive women under red chromatic conditions as
more attractive because of an increase in status (aside to the increased sexual receptivity).
Likewise, red men could be seen as more attractive due to an increase of sexual receptivity
(next to status). From a biological point of view these alternative paths would make sense, as
for example Setchell and Wickings (2006) found that male mandrills prefer high rank female
mandrills (which are more likely fertile and thus display red).
The present findings nicely corroborate recent evidence that red is important for the
self-image. Recently, Elliot and Pazda (2012) found that women displayed red on their
individual website, when they were interested in sexual behavior. Also, women were more
inclined to prefer red attire, when they expected to meet an attractive man (Elliot et al., 2013;
Prokop & Hromada, 2013). Farrelly, Slater, Elliott, Walden, and Wetherell (2013) found that
men chose red over other colors when their levels of testosterone were high, indicating status
and dominance.
Experiment 2 showed that the red effect persisted even when individuals were
distracted. Thus, there is reason to believe that it is possible to heighten one’s own
attractiveness by wearing a red (and, hopefully, occasionally cleaned) shirt over a longer
period. Subsequent research should thus focus on the durability of these effects, testing both
effects of wearing red over a longer period (e.g., across several experimental instances) and
delayed effects of wearing red (e.g., several days after wearing a red shirt).
Finally, we need to acknowledge the possibility of unintended negative consequences
when applying the color red in an experimental design such as ours. Under certain conditions,
wearing red might lead to a disadvantageous increase in self-surveillance and we know from
self-objectification research that increasing the self-surveillance of ones own physical
appearance can trigger severe consequences like body guilt and eating restraint (Calogero &
Pina, 2011). Thus, future research should examine under which conditions the red effect
might backlash. It might also be fruitful to address the question of whether there are certain
situations in which individuals avoid wearing red in order to prevent sending wrong or
unintended signals. However, when it comes to a desired romantic interaction, we aim to
emphasize that wearing red appears to be a promising strategy to increase ones attractiveness
and to send the intended signals.
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1We conducted a short online test with the same self-attractiveness scale as used in
Experiment 1. Forty-two German-speaking individuals took part in the Online-study. They
were asked to indicate their agreement with the attractiveness-items and then described the
colors of their actual clothes. Additionally, we assessed if they were dressed in the color red
with a dichotomously structured item (yes/no). We calculated the mean perceived self-
attractiveness of the participants, who did not wear red (n=42) and compared this score with
those of the red and blue condition of Experiment 1. There was no significant difference
between the participants, who took part in the short online test (and who did not wear red,
M=4.16, SD=0.91) and the participants in the blue condition of Exp.1, t(76)= -.47, p = .64.
Not surprisingly, self-perceived attractiveness was higher in the red condition compared to the
online sample not wearing red, t(77)= -2.37, p = .02. Accordingly, the significant difference
between the blue and red condition of Experiment 1 is most likely due to an increase of self-
attractiveness as a result of wearing the color red. Put differently, it is rather unlikely that
individuals decrease in self-perceived attractiveness as a consequence of wearing blue, as
there is no difference between the Online-sample and the blue condition.
2The scale was identical to the one used in Experiment 1a except for one item that was
excluded because participants (in Experiment 1) criticized the wording of this item.
3Both females and males showed a similar pattern regarding all three dependent
variables. Analyzing the data separately for males and females indicated that the red effect on
self-attractiveness was present for females, Ffemale=4.54, p=.04, η² =.08 and males Fmale=3.58,
p=.06, ηp2=.06. Regarding self-perceived sexual receptivity, the effect was found for women
Ffemale=5.61, p=.02, ηp2=.10, but was not present for men (although a trend may be seen),
Fmale=2.46, p=.12. p=.90. Finally regarding self-status, a similar pattern emerged for females,
Ffemale=5.06, p=.03, ηp2=.09, and males, Fmale=3.69, p=.06, ηp2=.07.
4We tested alternative models with self-attractiveness as mediator. The indirect effect
of color on self-perceived sexual receptivity via self-attractiveness was significant, B=0.56,
SE(B)=0.11; 95% BCa CI=[0.33; 0.79], and the indirect effect of color on self-status via self-
attractiveness was also significant B=0.46, SE(B)=0. 09; 95% BCa CI=[0.27; 0.63]. Thus,
considering self-attractiveness as the mediator seems to be a viable alternative, but as the
presentation in the current paper is theoretically driven, we join the theorizing of previous
research suggesting that attractiveness is the outcome variable.
5Additional Mediation Analysis – Female Sample: Using the same bootstrapping
parameters as for the complete sample, we tested if self-perceived sexual receptivity would
serve as mediator between color condition and self-attractiveness for the female sample. As
expected, the indirect effect of shirt color on self-attractiveness via sexual receptivity was
significant, B=0.53, SE(B)=0.28; 95% bias-corrected and accelerated confidence interval BCa
CI=[0.08; 1.18]. Thus, self-perceived sexual receptivity mediated the relation between shirt
color and self-attractiveness among women. Moreover, we tested if self-status would also
serve as mediator between color condition and self-attractiveness for the female sample. The
indirect effect of shirt color on self-attractiveness via self-status was also significant, B=0.47,
SE(B)=0.31; 95% BCa CI=[0.02; 1.26]. Thus, among women, the increase in self-
attractiveness in the red condition was due to both the increase in self-perceived sexual
receptivity as well as the increased self-status.
Additional Mediation Analysis – Male Sample: We found an indirect effect of shirt
color on self-attractiveness ratings via perceived self-status, B=0.60, SE(B)=0.31; 95% BCa
CI=[0.09; 1.26] for the male sample. Thus, self-perceived status mediated the relation
between shirt color and self-attractiveness among men. In addition, we tested if self-perceived
sexual receptivity would also mediate the effect of color condition on self-attractiveness. The
indirect effect of color condition on self-attractiveness via self-perceived sexual receptivity
was not significant, B=0.42, SE(B)=0.32; 95% BCa CI=[-0.10; 1.17]. Altogether the
additional analyses for the male sample indicate that the effect of color on self-attractiveness
is primarily due to the increase in self-perceived status.
6Note that the current data suffers from low power regarding the male subsample.
This, however, does not question the overall effect across both gender (see also meta-
Table 1.
Self-attractiveness (Means, Standard Deviations, and Effect Sizes) as function of gender and
color condition (for all Experiments separately and across Experiments)
Experiment 1 Experiment 2 Experiment 3 Overall (Exp1-3)
ηp2.03 .04 .05 .06 .08 .06 .03 .04
Hedges’d.39 1.38 .36 .74 .79 .74 .46 .89
Notes. M = Mean (SD = Standard Deviation), ηp2= effect size partial eta square, Hedges’ d,
Positive values of the bias-corrected effect size Hedges’ d indicate that self-attractiveness was
higher in the red than the blue condition.
... [3][4][5] For humans, both genders use color to enhance their visual, aesthetic appearance in order to modify their self-image or to attract a significant other. 6,7 Make-up, hair dye, tattoos, accessories, or clothing are ways of using color in order to alter (permanently or temporary) or add "beauty" to one's aesthetic characteristics. 8 Color is used as a form of expression and a visual representation of an individual's social identity. ...
... 18 Although there are a large variety of colors from which people can make choices, the color red has been studied the most with respect to color preference and sexual attraction. 6,[19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26] In western societies, the red hue is represented with the meaning of sex, lust, and romance in heterosexual interactions in novels, advertisements, television, and in cinemas, making the hue socially associated with an aphrodisiac. 19,24 Red is the most powerful of chromatic hues as it is known to arouse emotions, some of which are associated with behavior signals, such as sexual attractiveness. ...
... When the women were expected to interact with an attractive male, they preferred a red shirt for both study sections. 22,24 Berthold, Reese, and Martin conducted three experiments in 2016 which looked at evaluating the color red on perceived self-attractiveness. 6 In all the three experiments, participants were given either a red shirt or blue shirt to put on and asked questions about their perceived selfattractiveness. Both men and women participants wearing a red shirt rated themselves as more attractive than the participants that were given a blue shirt. ...
The objective of this study is to determine if men would follow the “red effect” when choosing colors for women to wear on a date, and also to determine if the colors that men would wear when going on a date would be the same as the colors that females (their date) would wish them to wear. A set of psychophysical data was generated from this experiment, where participants were asked to rank a set of 10 colored samples based on preference for each question asked. There were three different sets of colored samples. The set of colored samples given to the participant depended on the question. A total of five questions were asked. Scaling analysis was done on the data to organize a set of items according to preferences providing values, an interval scale (Z values), that correspond to the relative perceptual differences among the stimuli. The Z values were graphed to show the general preference of colors for women to wear, and the preference of colors for men to wear. A Spearman's rank‐order correlation coefficient (SRCC) was calculated comparing each individual's rank order with the mean rank order for that specific question. An average Spearman's rank order was calculated for each question and each gender in order to determine the variability in answers. Scaling results indicate that men follow the “red effect,” but women preferred to wear other colors such as turquoise, blue, or yellow depending on the outfit. Males and females agreed that no matter the colored bottoms (denim or black), blue was the preferred color top for men to wear. SRCC results showed a lot of variability between individual answers and the mean answer indicating that participants' rankings did not necessarily agree with general color preferences presented in the scaling analysis. While scaling analysis might suggest certain color preferences such as men following the “red effect” and women preferring to wear blue, the poor correlation found using SRCC between the individual answers and the mean rank orders suggests that color preferences for each individual are inherently unique.
... especially motivated to increase their attractiveness in order to obtain high-quality mates. In line with this idea, researchers have shown that wearers indeed perceive themselves to be more attractive when in red (Berthold, Reese, & Martin, 2017). ...
... In the current study, we consider the choice to wear red in a real-world dating context. If both men and women are seen by others as more attractive (Elliot & Niesta, 2008;Elliot et al., 2010) and they rate themselves as more attractive (Berthold et al., 2017) when in red clothing, then it follows that red clothing should be more prevalent in situations in which wearers are highly motivated to increase their attractiveness. In line with this idea, studies focusing on imagined situations have shown that women were more likely to choose to wear red (vs. ...
... Our results showed that the amount of red displayed by men was higher in the dating context. Although previous research found that men saw themselves as more attractive when wearing red (Berthold et al., 2017), and others also shared this perception of them , it may be that displaying red can have additional, and sometimes undesirable, effects. For example, men wearing red were rated as more aggressive, dominant, and angry-looking (Wiedemann, Burt, Hill, & Barton, 2015;cf. ...
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Previous research has shown that displaying the color red can increase attractiveness. As a result, women display red more often when expecting to meet more attractive men in a laboratory context. Here, we carried out a field study by analyzing 546 daters from the “First Dates” television series. Each participant was filmed in a pre-date interview and during a real first date, allowing direct comparison of the clothing worn by each person in these two contexts. Analysis of ratings of the amount of red displayed showed that both men and women wore more red clothing during their dates. This pattern was even stronger for black clothing, while the amount of blue clothing did not differ across the two contexts. Our results provide the first real-world demonstration that people display more red and black clothing when meeting a possible mate for the first time, perhaps seeking to increase their attractiveness and/or reveal their intentions to potential partners.
... The authors speculate that although they analyzed a relatively large sample size (n ¼ 281), the number of participants might not have been large enough to rule out possible alternative explanations. Yet, not only the current results (e.g., Agthe et al., 2023) hint to a potential strategic use of the color red for attracting desirable potential mates, but there is also evidence that people actually perceived themselves as more attractive when wearing a red (compared to a blue) shirt (Berthold et al., 2017). This finding shows that people are aware of the possible appearance-enhancing effect of the color red, so they might strategically use it. ...
In this chapter, we review the current literature on (a) the color red and perceived (sexual) attractiveness and (b) if (especially women) use red clothing to attract potential mates. We identify several limitations in the literature to draw the conclusion that red can be used as a mate attraction tactic. Keywords: Synonyms Red-romance effect; Red-sex link; Romantic red; Strategic sexual signaling
... Furthermore in one case, comparable high attractiveness scores were received when men rated both male and female models in red and black T-shirts relative to other colours, and when women rated male models in red and black T-shirts (Roberts, Owen, & Havlicek, 2010). In other cases, both men and women were more often to wear black and red for their first dates (Kramer & Mulgrew, 2018), and rated themselves more attractive when wearing a red compared to blue t-shirt (Berthold, Reese, & Martin, 2017). Taken together, it seems this clothing colour-induced bias in attractiveness rating is limited neither to the colour red nor to the male viewers. ...
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Research has indicated that female body perception and associated body-viewing gaze behaviour in women viewers can be influenced by a variety of internal and external factors (e.g., own body satisfaction, clothing style, and viewing angle). Although the clothing colour affects women's visual and aesthetic appearance rated by men or women wearer themselves, its impact on women judging other women's body attractiveness and body size is largely unclear. In this eye-tracking study we presented female body images of Caucasian and African avatars in a continuum of common dress sizes wearing different colours (black, grey, white, red, green and blue), and asked 31 young Caucasian women to rate the perceived body attractiveness and body size. Our analysis revealed that clothing colour black and red attracted the highest body attractiveness and slimmer body size ratings, whereas green and grey induced the lowest body attractiveness and overestimated body size judgements. Such colour-induced modulatory effect on body perception was further influenced by the avatar race (or skin tone; e.g., higher attractiveness ratings for colours white, blue and green in African than in Caucasian avatars), and was associated with the changes of body-viewing gaze allocation at the upper body and waist-hip regions (i.e. colour black and white attracting more viewing at the upper body and waist-hip regions, respectively). Taken together, it seems that the clothing colour and its contrast with skin tone play valuable roles in mediating women's body perception of other women.
... However if the colour is their seventh or eighth preference, it shows how they can control their destiny and be practical for their life and future. Anne et al. (2017) in their recent research showed that individuals are perceived as more attractive when presented with the color red. Their study seeks to extend these findings by studying the effects of red color on individuals' perception of self-attractiveness, rather than the attractiveness of others. ...
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The colour red has heterogeneous connotations that includes associations with both anger and romance. Two experiments were conducted where we contrasted the colour red associated with anger-related words to the colour yellow associated with joy-related words (Experiment 1), and in contrast with the colour pink associated with romance-related words (Experiment 2), using an emotion categorisation task. The analyses were conducted across both participants and items. In Experiment 1, we found clear facilitative effects for categorisation of anger-related words in red font and joy-related words in yellow font. This highlights the robust nature of the red-anger and yellow-joy pairings. In Experiment 2, we similarly found clear facilitative categorisation of anger-related words in red font. However, for romance-related words mixed results were found that illustrate the degree of competition involved in categorising romance-related words in red and pink fonts due to overlapping semantic connotations and colour hue similarity.
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Two studies investigated body guilt (i.e., feeling regret and remorse over how the body looks and a desire for reparative action to “fix” the body) within the framework of objectification theory among predominantly White British undergraduate women. In Study 1 (N = 225), participants completed self-report measures of interpersonal sexual objectification, self-surveillance, body shame, body guilt, and eating restraint. Path analyses indicated support for the inclusion of body guilt in the objectification model, with body shame and body guilt fully mediating the relationship between self-surveillance and eating restraint. In Study 2 (N = 85), participants reported higher body guilt, self-surveillance, body shame, and eating restraint when self-objectification was situationally activated, compared to the activation of body empowerment or a neutral condition. Path analyses in the second study replicated the objectification model from Study 1 with a state measure of self-objectification. These findings suggest that women also feel guilt (in addition to shame) about their bodies when attention is directed toward their physical appearance and wish to “correct” their body via disordered eating. Acknowledging women’s feelings of guilt in relation to not meeting restrictive beauty standards furthers our understanding of women’s experience of objectification and provides an additional target for reducing women’s mental health risks.
Color is a ubiquitous perceptual stimulus, yet relatively little empirical and even less theoretical work exists on color and psychological functioning. The research that has been conducted has tended to lack the scientific precision and rigor evident in other areas of inquiry in psychology. In response, we have set out to develop a general model of color and psychological functioning-color-in-context theory-which we present herein. We also overview several lines of empirical work that have emerged from this theoretical framework, starting with research on red in achievement contexts, moving on to research on red in affiliation contexts, and concluding with research on other colors in other contexts. In addition, we articulate the need to carefully attend to the fact that color comprises three attributes-hue, lightness, and chroma-in creating color manipulations in experimental work. We close by highlighting the conceptual, empirical, and practical implications of viewing color as a functional, as well as aesthetic, stimulus, and by sounding the call for more research in this important yet overlooked area.
Past research has demonstrated the importance of color in a variety of social contexts, including human mating. For example, red increases heterosexual men's feelings of attraction toward women. In the current work, this basic red-attraction link is qualified by the initial attractiveness of female faces. In two experiments, red enhanced men's ratings of female attractiveness, but only for faces pre-rated as attractive; red had no influence on perceptions of initially unattractive faces. Additionally, Experiment 1 manipulated how long participants viewed attractive and unattractive faces as an exploratory test of when color and face features are integrated. The findings show that initial female attractiveness moderates the influence of red on judgments of attractiveness even when the faces are viewed for extremely short exposures. The present findings identify an important boundary condition of the red-attractiveness effect and provide an initial indication of where in the processing stream color impacts social judgments. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Previous research has documented that the colors red and black influence perceptions of attractiveness for men viewing women. Perceived sexual receptivity has been identified as a mediator for the red-attraction link, but there has been no research to date on the mechanism linking black to attractiveness. We conducted an experiment to test whether separate, unique mediators were responsible for color effects on attractiveness. We hypothesized that red would lead to attractiveness via perceived sexual receptivity, and that black would lead to attractiveness via perceived fashionableness. The data supported our central hypotheses, suggesting that color stimuli can lead to similar outcomes, but through different psychological processes.
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.
Research on several non-human primate species has shown that females use red ornamentation as a sexual signal to attract male conspecifics. In the present research, we conducted two experiments designed to test an analogous use of red clothing by women in an intersexual interaction. In Experiment 1, women expecting to converse with an attractive man were more likely to choose to wear a red (versus green) shirt than women expecting to converse with an unattractive man or a woman of average attractiveness. In Experiment 2, women expecting to converse with an attractive man were more likely to choose to wear a red (versus blue) shirt than women expecting to converse with an attractive woman; red shirt choice was positively correlated with attractiveness and status perceptions in the former, but not the later, case. These findings contribute to both the literature on female sexuality and that on color and behavior.
Although females of many species closely related to humans signal their fertile window in an observable manner, often involving red or pink coloration, no such display has been found for humans. Building on evidence that men are sexually attracted to women wearing or surrounded by red, we tested whether women show a behavioral tendency toward wearing reddish clothing when at peak fertility. Across two samples (N = 124), women at high conception risk were more than 3 times more likely to wear a red or pink shirt than were women at low conception risk, and 77% of women who wore red or pink were found to be at high, rather than low, risk. Conception risk had no effect on the prevalence of any other shirt color. Our results thus suggest that red and pink adornment in women is reliably associated with fertility and that female ovulation, long assumed to be hidden, is associated with a salient visual cue.