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The effect of red on attractiveness for highly attractive women

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Previous research has shown that red can increase men’s perception of women’s attractiveness. However, this effect is absent under certain conditions, such as when women have masculine, unattractive, or older features. We sought to test whether this red-attraction effect would be present at the other end of the continuum, specifically, for highly attractive, provocatively dressed young women. In three experiments (the second and third of which were pre-registered), we manipulated the color of highly attractive models’ lingerie and assessed men’s perceptions of their sexual receptivity, attractiveness, and sexual appeal. Results revealed higher ratings across each variable for women in red, relative to green, across all 3 experiments. Furthermore, in Experiment 3, perceived sexual receptivity mediated the relations between red and both attractiveness and sexual appeal. Overall, these results show that the color red can further bolster the attractiveness and desirability of already highly attractive and desirable woman.
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The effect of red on attractiveness for highly attractive women
Adam D. Pazda
1
&Christopher A. Thorstenson
2
&Andrew J. Elliot
3
Accepted: 25 June 2021
#The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2021
Abstract
Previous research has shown that red can increase mens perception of womens attractiveness. However, this effect is absent
under certain conditions, such as when women have masculine, unattractive, or older features. We sought to test whether this red-
attraction effect would be present at the other end of the continuum, specifically, for highly attractive, provocatively dressed
young women. In three experiments (the second and third of which were pre-registered), we manipulated the color of highly
attractive modelslingerie and assessed mens perceptions of their sexual receptivity, attractiveness, and sexual appeal. Results
revealed higher ratings across each variable for women in red, relative to green, across all 3 experiments. Furthermore, in
Experiment 3, perceived sexual receptivity mediated the relations between red and both attractiveness and sexual appeal.
Overall, these results show that the color red can further bolster the attractiveness and desirability of already highly attractive
and desirable woman.
Keywords Red .Color .Attractiveness .Judgments .Impressions
The color red is often linked with passion, romance, and sex in
contemporary society. For example, red roses and hearts de-
marcate love on Valentines Day, red-light districts indicate
the availability of sex, and red clothing has been used to sym-
bolize lust in literature and film (e.g., The Scarlett Letter,
Jezebel,etc.).Reds romantic symbolism has been observed
in numerous cultures (Aslam, 2006;Douglas,2001;Foster&
Johnson, 2003) and across time, as early as 10,000 BCE
(Regas & Kozlowski, 1998). These societal associations be-
tween red and sexuality may have physiological origins. For
example, sexual excitation causes facial regions of skin to
redden (Changizi, 2009). Women also may have more red-
dened skin during peak fertility (Lynn et al., 2007), which is a
time when they display more skin due to a preference for
wearing revealing clothing (Durante et al., 2008). Further
evidence suggests that fertile women wear red clothing when
cold weather prohibits wearing revealing attire (Tracy &
Beall, 2014). In other primate species, females have conspic-
uous reddening of their skinduring ovulation, and this leads to
increased attention from conspecifics (Caro, 2005;Nunn,
1999;Setchelletal.,2006; Waitt et al., 2006).
Color-in-Context Theory (Elliot & Maier, 2012)proposes
that repeated pairings between colors and concepts should
elicit meaning-consistent cognition and behavior. Due to the
societal and physiological pairings of red with female sexual-
ity, perceiving red in interpersonal contexts should activate the
concept of sexuality, leading to downstream effects on cogni-
tion and behavior. Research over the past decade has provided
support for this proposition. For example, several empirical
studies have found that red enhances mens perceptions of
womens attractiveness and sexual appeal. This has been ob-
served with red viewed on womensfacialskin(Pazdaetal.,
2016; Stephen & McKeegan, 2010), clothing (Elliot & Niesta,
2008; Gilston & Privitera, 2016; Roberts et al., 2010), and in
the background or on accessories (Elliot & Niesta, 2008;Lin,
2014). Other empirical work has shown that perceiving red
clothing on women leads to approach-oriented behavior from
men, such as leaving bigger tips, decreasing physical distance,
and making contact on dating sites (see Pazda & Greitemeyer,
2015 for a review). Furthermore, Meier et al. (2012)demon-
strated that red only leads to attraction-relevant behaviors in
*Adam D. Pazda
apazda@gmail.com
1
Department of Psychology, University of South Carolina Aiken, 471
University Parkway, Aiken, SC 29801, USA
2
Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin Madison,
Madison, WI, USA
3
Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology,
University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, USA
Current Psychology
https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-021-02045-3
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... Similar to women's use of eyeliner to increase perceptions of their overall health (Russell, Porcheron, Sweda, Jones, Mauger & Morizot, 2016), red clothing could augment existing cues in their bodies that men use to identify health (e.g., skin) or provide a heuristic signal of women's interest through non-physiological means. In anticipation of a sexual encounter, particularly in shortterm contexts, women opt to wear red (Prokop & Hromada, 2013), which augments their attractiveness and perceptions of their sexual receptivity that would implicate them as an optimal reproductive opportunity for men (Elliot, Tracy, Pazda & Beall, 2013;Niesta-Kayser, Elliot & Feltman, 2010;Pazda, Elliot & Greitemeyer, 2012, Pazda, Prokop & Elliot, 2014, Pazda, Thorstenson & Elliot, 2021. ...
... She was presented in front of a white background in Qualtrics software to optimize the contrast to ensure participants could view the target color more readily. It is important to note that the online nature of this experiment did not allow for rigorous control of participants' displays and, therefore, color stimuli (see Pazda, Thorstenson & Elliot, 2021). ...
... Alternatively, the inconsistency in findings in this study with related programs of research could reflect various methodological heterogeneities (see Peperkoorn, Roberts & Pollet, 2016;Pollet, Costello, Groeneboom, Peperkoorn & Wu, 2019). Much of the research investigating color perception involves laboratory settings with rigorous controls on the hues and saturation in computer-presented stimuli (for a discussion, see Pazda, Thorstenson & Elliot, 2021). Future research would benefit from considering various testing methods to identify best practices in stimulus presentation. ...
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... Similar to women's use of eyeliner to increase perceptions of their overall health (Russell, Porcheron, Sweda, Jones, Mauger & Morizot, 2016), red clothing could augment existing cues in their bodies that men use to identify health (e.g., skin) or provide a heuristic signal of women's interest through non-physiological means. In anticipation of a sexual encounter, particularly in shortterm contexts, women opt to wear red (Prokop & Hromada, 2013), which augments their attractiveness and perceptions of their sexual receptivity that would implicate them as an optimal reproductive opportunity for men (Elliot, Tracy, Pazda & Beall, 2013;Niesta-Kayser, Elliot & Feltman, 2010;Pazda, Elliot & Greitemeyer, 2012, Pazda, Prokop & Elliot, 2014, Pazda, Thorstenson & Elliot, 2021. ...
... She was presented in front of a white background in Qualtrics software to optimize the contrast to ensure participants could view the target color more readily. It is important to note that the online nature of this experiment did not allow for rigorous control of participants' displays and, therefore, color stimuli (see Pazda, Thorstenson & Elliot, 2021). ...
... Alternatively, the inconsistency in findings in this study with related programs of research could reflect various methodological heterogeneities (see Peperkoorn, Roberts & Pollet, 2016;Pollet, Costello, Groeneboom, Peperkoorn & Wu, 2019). Much of the research investigating color perception involves laboratory settings with rigorous controls on the hues and saturation in computer-presented stimuli (for a discussion, see Pazda, Thorstenson & Elliot, 2021). Future research would benefit from considering various testing methods to identify best practices in stimulus presentation. ...
Preprint
Previous research indicates that women frequently use red clothing to signal their sexual receptivity, with men and women both recognizing as a reliable cue to this receptivity. Nonetheless, receptivity cues can inform perceptions of women’s culpability for experiencing sexual assault. Thus, women experiencing sexual assault could become more of a target for victim-blaming if assaulted while wearing red, especially among those who believe the world is just. The current study presented a sexual assault vignette describing a woman wearing either red or green with participants indicating the extent they perceived her as culpable for the assault. Results indicated that the red-wearing target was viewed as more culpable for the assault, particularly for women with heightened just-world beliefs. We frame results from an evolutionary framework considering victim-blaming as part of women’s intrasexual competition.
... Nonetheless, some studies have failed to support the "red-attractiveness" effect among men viewing women (e.g., Lehmann & Calin-Jageman, 2017). Pazda et al. (2021) argued that "…this effect is absent under certain conditions, such as when women have masculine, unattractive, or older features." Across three experiments, these researchers showed that men rated images of highly desirable female models as significantly more attractive when they were wearing red in comparison with when they were wearing green lingerie. ...
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