Seeing Red

The color red has great significance to us primates. In some circumstances it can be a warning, but in others it can be a come-on. We humans lead a more complex social life than most baboons, so how do we see red?

On one hand we see it as a symbol for glory days with flashy uniforms while on the other a reminder of gory days as it is a common color for medical academic dress. So if we put the blood and glory on one side where else does red rule our lives?

Like our primate cousins, we see red as a warning sign so a red traffic light means stop. And, of course, our mothers will have warned us about ‘scarlet women’ although I doubt if many heed that warning and see a red dress in the same light as a traffic instruction.

Some new work by Elliot and Pazda in last week’s PLoS one has investigated the use of red by women in the Internet dating game (1). They trolled through a couple of websites and randomly picked 500 women from each to check out their preferred colors.

Black was a universally popular color for clothing, but what about the use of other colors? Three studies were done. Firstly, they studied a group of women who were interested in long-term relationships with implications for marriage. They also studied a group that indicated that they were interested in casual sexual relations, and finally, they checked out a group who thought that maybe they might be interested in casual sex.

The results were clear. Women wearing red were strikingly more interested in casual sexual relationships than other colors such as blue, green, etc. So it seems that the tradition of the scarlet woman is still alive and well in our cyber world. I stress that pink isn’t a maybe-indicator of a half-hearted interest. It’s red or nothing.


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