What do you associate the color red with? Passion, anger, love…and a sexy woman? While previous studies have shown that a woman in red will make a man go weak in the knees, a new research attempted to find how other women perceive a woman in red. And the answer is: with hostility. Other women perceive a woman in red to be more sexually receptive and are more likely to derogate and guard their mates from her.

Color Psychology 

Color has been known to influence both  behavior and the way people think. Pink calms, yellow helps concentrate, black makes one aggressive, and red, it is believed, awakens amorous passions in men.

But is this because of the way red is portrayed in popular culture or is it a natural instinct? Research shows that not just humans, but other primates, use red as a visual aphrodisiac. So it may be that not just societal conditioning but our deeper biological instincts also influence our responses to the color red.

Code Red

In order to gauge women’s responses to the color red, researchers from the University of Rochester, Trnava University, and the Slovak Academy of Sciences conducted three experiments. The study has been published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. These experiments were carried out on female participants from an Eastern European country.

In the first experiment, participants were shown images of a woman in red and a woman in white and were asked questions about the woman’s sexual receptivity. Questions like "This person is interested in sex," required the participants to respond by moving a bar along a sliding scale from "No, not at all" to "Yes, definitely." As expected, the woman in red was rated as being more sexually receptive. While 69 percent of the participants reported to being in a committed relationship, this did not greatly alter their responses.

In the second experiment the researchers wanted to check if the women would get hostile in terms of derogating a woman in red. "Derogation [involves] speaking poorly of another person to make them seem inferior, undesirable, or unlikeable, while making oneself seem superior and more likable by contrast," lead researcher Adam Pazda explains in a press report.

The experiment also gauged if the women considered women in red to be threat enough to guard their mates from them. "Mate-guarding is the act of protecting one's own romantic partner from romantic or sexual encounters with others." The researchers specifically tested whether women would derogate on the topics of fidelity ("I would guess that this women cheats on men"), and financial resources ("I would guess that this woman has no money").

In order to eliminate the possible bias towards white being perceived as a color of purity, in the third experiment the researchers compared red and green. "Using green allowed us to equate both hues on lightness and chroma, which allowed for a more rigorous, controlled test of the red effect." To determine intent to mate-guard, participants were asked: "How likely would you be to introduce this person to your boyfriend?" and "How likely would you be to let your boyfriend spend time alone with this person?" 

The results of the last two experiments proved that women found other women dressed in red to be more sexually receptive as compared to white or green. And when it came to derogation, participants were more likely to derogate a woman in red’s fidelity than her financial condition. Women in committed relationships were also more likely to guard their partner from a woman in red. In contrast, participants did not show any difference between sexual fidelity derogation and financial resource derogation in relation to a woman in white and did not perceive a woman in green to be much of a threat to their relationship with their partner.

Source-Pazda A, Prokop, P, and Elliot, A, Red and Romantic Rivalry: Viewing Another Woman in Red Increases Perceptions of Sexual Receptivity, Derogation and Intentions to Mate-Guard, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2014.