Saturday, March 26, 2016

Strategic Sexual Signals: Women's Display versus Avoidance of the Color Red Depends on the Attractiveness of an Anticipated Interaction Partner

Do women strategically display the color red when anticipating an interaction with an attractive man? And do they actually avoid wearing red when anticipating an interaction with a relatively unattractive man? Results from the current study suggest that the answer to both questions is: yes. Consistent with prior research on the link between red and sexuality, our findings indicate that women’s use of red clothing, accessories, and/or make-up can indeed serve as a subtle and strategic indicator of sexual interest. A higher percentage of female participants displayed red when they expected to interact with an attractive (vs. an unattractive) male experimenter. Moreover, the percentage of participants wearing red in the attractive condition was higher than in a naturalistic baseline condition, and–notably–the percentage of women wearing red in the unattractiveness condition was lower than in the naturalistic baseline...

From an evolutionary perspective, the quality of a romantic partner is especially important for women, because women’s potential to produce offspring is more limited than men’s, and because women’s level of initial obligatory parental investment is higher than it is for men (see []). Accordingly, women should be particularly thoughtful about finding a partner with high mate value and also careful to avoid a partner with low mate value. Thus, catching the attention of unattractive men might be maladaptive, consistent with theories emphasizing the importance of avoiding unattractive mates for women [,]. Indeed, several evolutionary theories suggest that above and beyond seeking attractive mates, people (and women in particular) are motivated to avoid interacting with or mating with unattractive individuals (e.g., [,]. Taken together, women who display mating signals to physically unattractive men might risk lowering their reproductive success. Thus, our results are consistent with the idea that the use of red in clothing, accessories, and/or make-up reflects an adaptive strategy to enhance one’s chances to attract (vs. avoid) a partner with high (vs. low) mate value.

Given that clothing choices are an essential part of people’s daily life, it is interesting to consider the implications of apparel decisions more broadly (see []). In general, women might avoid red in situations in which their aim is to blend in rather than to stand out or in situations in which they wish to avoid unwanted mating attention. These results might not only have relevance for designers and clients of online dating services who are interested in an “optimal” appearance, but also for people working in marketing and in the field of communication (i.e. for using the color red to persuade people to buy certain products or for conveying specific messages, such as in political or societal contexts). In addition, it is possible that the use and avoidance of the color red might have implications in clinical contexts: In particular, women who are socially anxious or high in introversion might be cautious in their use of red. The use of red could also have implications for workplace interactions, as the color red could signal (potentially inappropriate) levels of attraction toward opposite-sex coworkers. The degree to which the present results and these broader implications also apply to men (i.e., whether they also strategically use the color red in mating contexts; for instance, to signal attractiveness, status or dominance) is an open question worthy of subsequent research (see [,].

Full article at:

1Department of Psychology, University ofPotsdam, Potsdam, Germany
2Department of Psychology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich, Munich, Germany
3Department of Management and Organizations, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, United States of America

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