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Guys thinking about wearing a red T-shirt or a red tie might want to reconsider their wardrobe choices. When men wear red people think they’re angry and aggressive, according to a study from Biology Letters.
“Color has subconscious psychological effects to which humans are just as susceptible as non-human species,” writes Robert Barton, an author of the study and professor of evolutionary anthropology at Durham University in England, via email.
Barton previously found that when boxers, martial artists, and wrestlers wear red they have a better chance of winning. To understand why this might be, he looked how people perceived red-clad men in neutral settings, such as a workplace.
“We wanted to know whether one reason for this might be because their opponents feel intimidated,” he says.
To understand this, Barton and his colleagues asked 50 women and 50 men to look at 20 pictures in which men wore either red, blue, or gray T-shirts. For each picture, participants ranked how aggressive the men seemed on a scale from one to seven, where one was extremely aggressive and seven was extremely friendly.
They also rated how dominant the men seemed on another scale from one to seven, where one was extremely submissive and seven was extremely dominant. After this evaluation, subjects matched the photos with emotions, dubbing men as angry, happy, frightened, or neutral.
When men evaluated other men in red, they believed they were angry, aggressive, and dominant.
“People flush red when angry and blanch when they are frightened because of changes to peripheral blood circulation. We believe this triggers subconscious responses in others, and this response can be triggered even by artificial red colors, such as red clothes,” Barton says.
Women agreed, but did not see the men in red as dominant. It’s likely because men would be more attuned to male dominance.
“Redness is often a signal of male dominance in non-human species, such as the mandrill monkey; if the same is true in humans, we would expect other males to be particularly sensitive to it,” he says.
While Barton’s research focuses on men in red, there is evidence that people perceive women in red differently than women wearing other colors. A recent study found women think ladies in red are promiscuous and shouldn’t be trusted around their men.
Wearing red for both men and women makes them seem healthier, just like a flushed completion might. That red hue plays a role in how people perceive both attractiveness and dominance, Barton says.
But this means guys might want to select that red tie or shirt with caution.
“Avoid wearing red if you want to create a calm, trusting impression, but consider wearing it if you want to intimidate or (be) dominant,” he says.