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

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Abstract

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.
Running head: RED COLOR AND SELF-ATTRACTIVENESS 1
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: anne.berthold@googlemail.com
The authors declare that there are no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the
research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Acknowledgements
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
RED COLOR AND SELF-ATTRACTIVENESS 2
Abstract
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.
RED COLOR AND SELF-ATTRACTIVENESS 3
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.
RED COLOR AND SELF-ATTRACTIVENESS 4
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
RED COLOR AND SELF-ATTRACTIVENESS 5
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
associations.
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
RED COLOR AND SELF-ATTRACTIVENESS 6
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
RED COLOR AND SELF-ATTRACTIVENESS 7
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.
Method
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
RED COLOR AND SELF-ATTRACTIVENESS 8
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-
mail.
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).
RED COLOR AND SELF-ATTRACTIVENESS 9
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.
Method
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-
items.
RED COLOR AND SELF-ATTRACTIVENESS 10
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
RED COLOR AND SELF-ATTRACTIVENESS 11
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).
Method
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,
RED COLOR AND SELF-ATTRACTIVENESS 12
“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).
RED COLOR AND SELF-ATTRACTIVENESS 13
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.
RED COLOR AND SELF-ATTRACTIVENESS 14
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%
RED COLOR AND SELF-ATTRACTIVENESS 15
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).
RED COLOR AND SELF-ATTRACTIVENESS 16
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.
RED COLOR AND SELF-ATTRACTIVENESS 17
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RED COLOR AND SELF-ATTRACTIVENESS 21
Footnotes
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.
RED COLOR AND SELF-ATTRACTIVENESS 22
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.
RED COLOR AND SELF-ATTRACTIVENESS 23
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-
analysis).
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)
Female
(n=61)
Male
(n=13)
Female
(n=42)
Male
(n=8)
Female
(n=30)
Male
(n=26)
Female
(n=133)
Male
(n=47)
red
condition
4.59
(1.02)
4.92
(0.37)
4.78
(0.98)
5.13
(1.20)
5.41
(0.68)
5.45
(0.67)
4.82
(0.93)
5.23
(0.79)
blue
condition
4.28
(0.77)
4.08
(0.76)
4.42
(0.96)
4.26
(0.93)
4.57
(1.48)
4.66
(1.20)
4.44
(0.93)
4.43
(1.18)
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.
RED COLOR AND SELF-ATTRACTIVENESS 24
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