Wardrobe malfunction – three failed attempts to replicate the finding that red increases attractiveness

Posted on December 14, 2016

Photo: flickr

It’s one of the simplest, most evidence-backed pieces of advice you can give to someone who’s looking to attract a partner – wear red. Many studies, most of them involving men rating women’s appearance, have shown that wearing red clothing increases attractiveness and sex appeal. The reasons are thought to be traceable to our evolutionary past – red displays in the animal kingdom also often indicate sexual interest and availability – complemented by the cultural connotations of red with passion and sex.

A team of Dutch and British researchers has just published three attempts to replicate the red effect in the open-access journal Evolutionary Psychology, including testing whether the effect is more pronounced in a short-term mating context, which would be aligned with the idea that red signals sexual availability. The results for all three experiments did not uncover an effect of mating context and also failed to demonstrate any effect of red on attractiveness whatsoever.

Especially in the eyes of men viewing women, red increases attractiveness and had been muddied by a large study published earlier this year that tried to extend the red effect to the context of waitress tipping, but contrary to expectations, men gave smaller tips to female servers wearing red. In other recent papers, they found the red-attractiveness effect when red was compared with some colours but not others.

In a new research, Leonard Peperkoorn and his colleagues had 206 Dutch men (all were heterosexual except for two who described themselves as bisexual) to judge the attractiveness of a woman pictured on a dating site, as well as how much they wanted to have sex with her. The woman was shown wearing either red, black or white shirt. The participants revealed that the colour of the shirt was the least significant factor in their judgement of the woman’s attractiveness. In a second replication attempt, similar results were found in the sample of nearly 200 heterosexual American men.

Researchers did attempt a more direct replication of a prior study that demonstrated the red effect in the context of men recruited on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk website rating a woman as more sexually receptive when she was seen wearing a red shirt as compared with a white one.

The same study materials used earlier were obtained and 433 men via Amazon was recruited to rate the same woman. The only difference is that the men did not rate the woman’s sexual receptivity any differently when she was wearing red than when she was wearing white, and this appeared true across different age groups and regardless of the men’s current relationship status.

Although these new null results do not mean there is zero red effect, but they do not raise questions about its robustness, and the possibility that there might have been a bias in past research to publish positive results. Another interpretation is that the red effect might be more significant in real interactions than in lab-based research using static photos as the colour might cause an influence to the wearer to behave more flirtatiously, for instance.

However Peperkoorn and colleagues further highlighted that the past evidence has tended to be based on small studies and they encouraged others to perform replication attempts with larger samples.

To read the full article, please click on link below.

Source material from British Psychological Society

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