The Color Red & the Rules of Attraction

Studies show that wearing red makes you more attractive.

Leah Zerbe January 27, 2012

International researchers have finally scientifically proven why some middle-aged men trade in minivans and dull sedans for cherry-red rides—it makes them more attractive. For those who can't afford a new red convertible, the good news is scientists are finding it's simply wearing or being surrounded by the color red that tends to make men appear more attractive to women, according to a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. So wearing a red polo shirt could be just as effective as driving around in a red convertible—though definitely not as exciting!

THE DETAILS: Researchers conducted seven experiments in the U.S., England, Germany, and China that included 288 women and 25 male undergraduate students. In six of the seven experiments, women looked at photos of men and evaluated their status, attractiveness, and sexual desirability. The women also rated what they perceived to be a man's likability, kindness, and sociability. The photos were manipulated so the man in the photos wore different color shirts. In other experiments, researchers used black and white photos but used different color photo frames. The effect was consistent across cultures: Women in all four countries found men more attractive when the men were wearing red shirts or they appeared in black-and-white photographs in red frames.

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Interestingly, the same didn't hold true for the men in the study. The researchers asked men to look at photos of other men and rank them according to the characteristics listed above, but in their responses, color didn't seem to have an effect. The study authors also found that women were unaware that they were drawn to men associated with the color red. (Sorry, guys, your secret is out of the bag now.)

WHAT IT MEANS: Our society has come to associate women in red with beauty, and previous research has confirmed the fact that men find women in red more attractive. After all, why else would the song "Lady in Red" be so popular? This latest set of experiments shows that the reverse is also true, most likely for a number of reasons. First, red is associated with status and power, and has been for centuries. In ancient cultures, red conveyed a sense of prosperity and status, and it's still a sign of prestige today—take the red carpet at awards shows, for instance. Biological factors also play a role. In primates, alpha males boast the largest and most intense displays of red, and females tend to mate with them more because they offer protection and resources. "When women see red it triggers something deep and probably biologically ingrained," explains study coauthor Andrew Elliot, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. "We say in our culture that men act like animals in the sexual realm, and it looks like women may be acting like animals as well."

But wearing red doesn't automatically mean an end to lonely Friday nights. In the latest study, women found men wearing red to be more attractive, but they did not find them any more likable, kind, or sociable than men in other colors. So just being your good old self may be a better way to score a date. You can throw on a red shirt for good measure.

Here are some other rules of attraction to consider:

• Love is personal.
Immediate chemistry is real, but it differs vastly for everyone. While some people are immediately drawn to Amazons, another might prefer a guy with a big head or a woman with a gap in her teeth. If you get rejected by your next instant crush, don't take it personally.

• Look for your reflection.
You probably know a few couples who look alike, literally. Relationships experts say we're attracted to things that are familiar to us, physically and emotionally. So you might be drawn to someone that looks like you or your family members.

• Smile. It improves your profile.
Someone smiling back at you provides instant positive feedback, and that's something many of us cannot resist. So whether you're hunting for a mate at the local coffee shop or picking a photo for your online dating profile, make sure you're wearing a smile, along with your favorite red shirt.

Want to know more about the rules of attraction? Check out Women's Health magazine's Why You Find Him Sexy and Men's Health magazine's Survival of the Hottest.