Wearing red can help you get ahead at work but research says it depends on who’s looking

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Frustrating the already flighty laws of attraction, comes a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. Not only does the data within expand the husky symbolism espoused to red, it assigns the color a conditional allegiance.

“Thus far research has generally found that the color red has an attraction (positive) effect on romantic contexts and an avoidance (negative) effect on achievement contexts. We were interested in examining whether the red color could trigger avoidance behavior also in romantic contexts,”  said study author Nicolas Pontes, a lecturer at The University of Queensland.

In the first two studies, collectively comprised of 1,009 female participants between the ages of 18 and 50, the married respondents viewed men as less attractive when they were positioned in front of a red background versus a white one, while single participants evidenced the exact inverse of this effect. In a follow-up study of 412 married women, it was determined that men standing in front of a red background consistently invoked words concerning commitment and threats in the minds of the study pool compared to men in front of a white background.

“Our research has implications not simply for romantic relationships but also for interpersonal encounters more generally at the workplace, interactions in hospitality as well as in advertising,” the authors wrote.

50 shades of red

Curiously, the authors hastened to say that previously conducted studies found that the attraction and avoidance associations expressed in their report held true for platonic evaluations as well and even maintained the same fidelity. To single women, men adorned in red that were perceived as attractive were dually deemed to be more likable, better communicators, and even got hired and promoted more frequently.

“In addition, a common ritual for many couples is to dine out and when doing so, individuals are potential exposed to service providers (e.g., waiters) that may be perceived as attractive and, therefore, a potential threat to one’s relationship, particularly if these waiters wear red clothing.“In sum, while most research would suggest that wearing the color red can enhance one’s attractiveness to others, our research suggests wearing the color red in an attempt to increase attractiveness and impress another may backfire and essentially lead to undesired outcomes when the person is married, which is the case for more than half of the population.”

Psychology has already distinguished the hue as a sensual outlier, lending it the coinage: the red effect. Back in 2017, a study published in the Journal of Social Psychology provided a bit of clarity to the phenomenon by way of two reasoned and conditioned suppositions. The first states that because red is an intrinsically striking color, it has a way of accenting what and who most would likely find attractive.  Furthering this, however, is the effect the color has on the wearer. The researchers of this particular study observed that those that touted an outfit based primarily in reds expressed a heightened sense of self-assurance.

“We found that people can feel more attractive when putting on red clothes,” the researchers reported. “[T]he results showed that the self-perception red effect was mediated by the individuals’ self-perceived sexual receptivity and self-perceived status,”