Red, the Color of Attraction – Color Science Meets the Movies

Two researchers, Andrew Elliot, a psychology professor, and Daniela Niesta, a postdoctoral researcher, at the University of Rochester, published a groundbreaking study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Using five psychological experiments, the study concluded the color red makes men feel more amorous toward women. And men are unaware of the role color plays in their attraction.

Image Source: Head In The Clouds (2004)

“Much is known about color physics and color physiology, but very little is known about color psychology, “ said Elliot.

The aphrodisiacal association of red with amorous intentions my be a societal conditioning, consider the red light district and the red hearts and roses associated with Valentines.

Image: Jerry Levy

Elliot & Niesta argue that men’s response to red may more likely stem from deep biological roots. Non-human primates respond to females displaying red. When nearing ovulation, female baboon and chimpanzees redden conspicuously nearing ovulation. This sends a clear color signal to attract males. As much as men might think they respond to women in a thoughtful, controlled way, the study shows their preferences and predilections are more primitive.

Image Source: Volver (2006)

To quantify the red effect, one study looked at men’s responses to photographs of women under a variety of color presentations. A woman’s photo would be framed by blue, white, gray or red. In another experiment the woman’s photo was placed on a red or blue background.

Image Source

In one study, men were shown photographs of women wearing either a red or blue shirt. In the experiment men were asked not only about their attraction to the woman, but if they were going on a date and had $ 100.00 in their wallet, how much money would you be willing to spend on your date?

Image Source: Far From Heaven (2002)

Under all conditions, women shown framed by or wearing red were rated significantly more attractive and sexually desirable by men than the exact same woman shown with other colors.

Story Source: University of Rochester(2008, October 28.) Red Enhances Men’s Attraction To women, Psychological Study Reveals. Science Daily. Retrieved February 15, 2010, from

Forever trying to raise the awareness that color matters in all areas of our lives, I recently saw Pedro Almodovar’s movie, Broken Embraces. The amount of red in the movie was striking. I found an interview on line with Maria Delgado and Almodovar discussing the color.

Image Source: Volver (2006)

Maria Delgado: I’m very aware that in all your films, quite often the strong female character is seen wearing red at specific points in the film. So whenever I watch one of your films, I almost wait for it – to see a red dress, or red cardigan or red shoe. It’s like a treasure almost. Is that intentional or is that just me?

Pedro Almodovar: The color red is present in all my films and my films are on the whole are very colorful. I use it in a very sensual way – It is a significant color. In Spain it represents hate, love and fire. It’s a cross- cultural color of humanity.

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Color Psychology & Big Pharma

Since starting the blog, I have been spending more time on the web searching for research articles on applied color. Its remarkable how many articles are written about color and the pivotal role it plays in our lives.

Wired Magazine ran an article last fall, Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drug makers Are Desperate to Know Why. “What turns a dummy pill into a catalyst for relieving pain, anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction, or the tremors of Parkinson’s disease? It is the brain’s own healing mechanisms, unleashed by the belief that a phony medication is the real thing. The most important ingredient in any placebo is the doctor’s bedside manner followed by the color or the tablets.” – Steve Silberman

Yellow pills make for the most effective antidepressants as they are seen as little doses of sunshine. Red pills are most stimulating and provide energy while soothing blue works best for tranquilizers. Green pills reduce anxiety and white tablets are superior for soothing ulcers.

Color association and symbolism provided the basis for the development of the field of color psychology. To see the influence of color penetrate into big Pharma’s attempt to dominate our central nervous system demonstrates how powerful the brain is and that color has a definitive impact on human experience.

Author: Jill Pilaroscia, Colour Studio, Life In Color