Red is not a color you wear when you’re feeling shy. You swipe on red lipstick or put on a red dress when you want to be noticed. It’s sexy but assertive, not demure. After all, it’s also the color of stop signs, of anger, of extreme heat. But where does red get its power? A few new studies aimed to answer that question. The first, published in the upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science, asks whether our ideas about the color red are cultural or if they have deeper, biological roots. The authors think it might be a product of evolution, not just convention. They found that when rhesus macaque monkeys were offered food by scientists wearing red, blue, and green, they routinely avoided the food offered by people wearing red. There must be something deep in the primate brain, they concluded, that makes red an intimidating color. “We—primates and then humans—are very visual,” one researcher explained. “We are also very social.”
Another study, this one in the journal Emotion, showed that seeing red (literally) makes our physical reactions faster and more forceful. The current research, that study’s author noted, indicates that “seeing red immediately and very quickly in a short time period does make you stronger.” Unfortunately, he added, “I don’t think it lasts. It is a very quick response.”
Do you wear red when you’re feeling powerful and want to make an impression?
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