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Does the color red have magic powers?

No, I don’t really think it has magic powers, but there are a number of studies showing red has notable effects in a variety of areas.

Don’t wear red to the SAT’s:

This research examines the hypothesis that an attentional processgrounded in avoidance motivation—local relative to globalprocessing—mediates the negative effect of red on intellectualperformance. This hypothesis was tested in a series of experimentsusing two approaches to documenting mediation. Experiment 1established that the perception of red undermines IQ test performance.Experiments 2a and 2b documented mediation via the experimentalcausal chain approach, and Experiment 3 documented mediationvia the measurement of mediation approach. This represents thefirst demonstration of a mediational process in the domain ofcolor psychology. A call is made to broaden priming researchto include color stimuli.

Source: “Mediation of the Negative Effect of Red on Intellectual Performance” from Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 34, No. 11, 1530-1540 (2008)

But do wear it when you’re playing goalie:

Research by the University of Chichester presented at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference on 16th April 2010, suggests that the colour red may have an unconscious influence on the perception of failure, causing strikers to perform worse.

Hell, make the whole team wear it:

The colour of sportswear has been shown to influence the outcome of bouts for several different combat sports. The generality of these effects, and whether they extend to collaborative forms of contests (team sports), is uncertain. Since 1947, English football teams wearing red shirts have been champions more often than expected on the basis of the proportion of clubs playing in red. To investigate whether this indicates an enhancement of long-term performance in red-wearing teams, we analysed the relative league positions of teams wearing different hues. Across all league divisions, red teams had the best home record, with significant differences in both percentage of maximum points achieved and mean position in the home league table. The effects were not due simply to a difference between teams playing in a colour and those playing in a predominantly white uniform, as the latter performed better than teams in yellow hues. No significant differences were found for performance in matches away from home, when teams commonly do not wear their “home” colours. A matched-pairs analysis of red and non-red wearing teams in eight English cities shows significantly better performance of red teams over a 55-year period. These effects on long-term success have consequences for colour selection in team sports, confirm that wearing red enhances performance in a variety of competitive contexts, and provide further impetus for studies of the mechanisms underlying these effects.

Source: “Red shirt colour is associated with long-term team success in English football” from Journal of Sports Sciences, Volume 26, Issue 6 April 2008 , pages 577 – 582

And in the inevitable fight at the soccer match be sure to wear it:

According to Hill and Barton’s report, published in the journal Nature in 2005, athletes dressed in red had a measurable advantage. This was particularly the case with Taekwondo (red won in 57 percent of all matchups), following by boxing (55 percent victory quotient) and wrestling (Greco-Roman style, 52 percent; freestyle, 53 percent).

Source

But don’t wear it when you’re trying to be creative, says the ever-sharp Jonah Lehrer over at Frontal Cortex:

Existing research reports inconsistent findings with regard to the effect of color on cognitive task performances. Some research suggests that blue or green leads to better performances than red; other studies record the opposite. Current work reconciles this discrepancy. We demonstrate that red (versus blue) color induces primarily an avoidance (versus approach) motivation (study 1, n = 69) and that red enhances performance on a detail-oriented task, whereas blue enhances performance on a creative task (studies 2 and 3, n = 208 and 118). Further, we replicate these results in the domains of product design (study 4, n = 42) and persuasive message evaluation (study 5, n = 161) and show that these effects occur outside of individuals’ consciousness (study 6, n = 68). We also provide process evidence suggesting that the activation of alternative motivations mediates the effect of color on cognitive task performances.

Source: “Blue or red? Exploring the effect of color on cognitive task performances.” from Science. 2009 Feb 27;323(5918):1226-9. Epub 2009 Feb 5. 

Ladies, do wear red on a date, says the always-interesting Vaughan Bell over at Mind Hacks:

In many nonhuman primates, the color red enhances males’ attraction to females. In 5 experiments, the authors demonstrate a parallel effect in humans: Red, relative to other achromatic and chromatic colors, leads men to view women as more attractive and more sexually desirable. Men seem unaware of this red effect, and red does not influence women’s perceptions of the attractiveness of other women, nor men’s perceptions of women’s overall likeability, kindness, or intelligence. The findings have clear practical implications for men and women in the mating game and, perhaps, for fashion consultants, product designers, and marketers. Furthermore, the findings document the value of extending research on signal coloration to humans and of considering color as something of a common language, both within and across species.

Source: “Romantic red: red enhances men’s attraction to women.” from J Pers Soc Psychol. 2008 Nov;95(5):1150-64.

Vaughan also linked to a NYT piece that showed redheads are more sensitive to pain. (I don’t think they can stop wearing that, though.)

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About Eric Barker