Healthy Living

Seeing Red: Red Faces Are Perceived as More Dominant, Aggressive and Attractive

carrot top: most attractive?
Researchers found that, for all three prompts (dominance, aggression, and attractiveness), women made the men's faces more red. Wikimedia Commons/Hoggarazzi P

The color red has long been associated with power, but why?

Evolutionary psychologists think that the answer has its roots in nature. For example, among primates, male rhesus macaques tend to avoid conflict with males with redder faces, both genders tend to prefer mates with redder visages, and redness is associated with increased testosterone levels in men. Since primates and humans are closely related, evolutionary psychologists figured that the link would hold true for humans as well: men with red faces would be seen as more attractive and dominant. Researchers from the United Kingdom and Malaysia sought to uncover the answer.

The study assembled 21 male participants and took pictures of them. All men were Caucasian and pictured not smiling. Then, 45 female participants viewed the pictures of them. They were asked to make the pictures of the men more attractive, aggressive, and dominant. The only thing that they could change on the men's faces was their coloring, either making them more reddish or more green.

Researchers found that, for all three prompts (dominance, aggression and attractiveness), women made the men's faces more red. Interestingly though, women made men's faces more red when indicating that the man was aggressive or dominant than the women did when indicating that the man was attractive.

The researchers wrote, "While dominance represents success in male-male competition, it is not always the case that female choice will favor the most dominant males...Indeed, recent theoretical work has suggested that, in humans, male masculinity and sexual dimorphism [the differences between the appearances of the sexes] may have evolved in response to male-male contest competition rather than in response to female choice."

The study may have been limited by a rather small, homogeneous sample size, so future studies will probably address that. However, according to the study, reddish undertones are also preferred by Asian and African American groups as well.

The entire study can be found in Evolutionary Psychology here.

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