Heads up, men: Pulling on a bright red shirt in the morning may change the way people perceive you throughout the day.
According to a new study, most of us think men dressed in red look more aggressive, dominant and angry than if they were clad in gray or blue.
The research was published Tuesday in Biology Letters.
Red has long been associated with aggression and competitive success in animals including humans. The research team, led by anthropologist Diana Wiedemann of Durham University in England, points out that male zebra finches with red leg bands get more access to resources than their unbanded counterparts and some monkeys have been known to avoid people wearing red.
Previous studies have shown that wearing red increases a person's chances of winning sports games and is linked to a higher heart rate and higher testosterone levels. Still other studies suggest that competitive athletes wearing red appear more brave, aggressive and dominant to an observer.
To see if the color red affects our perception of a man's personality traits in a neutral, noncompetitive setting, the researchers digitally altered the T-shirt color on 20 pictures of men. Each man's shirt was rendered in red, blue and gray.
Next the researchers showed the pictures to 50 male and 50 female volunteers and asked them to rate the pictures on a 7-point scale for how aggressive the person in the picture appeared, as well as how dominant he looked. They also asked the participants to note whether the men looked angry, happy, frightened or neutral.
Both men and women were more likely to say that a man in a red shirt appeared to be angrier than when he was wearing a blue or gray shirt. They also agreed that men dressed in red looked more aggressive.
The perception of dominance, however, seems to be in the eye of the beholder. Women were not inclined to see a man dressed in red as any more dominant than when he was dressed in blue or gray. Men, on the other hand, overwhelmingly rated other men in red as more dominant.
The researchers say they would like to investigate this gender difference further to see if it reflects different biases in social perceptions among men and women.
They also note that there was no difference in the perception of anger, aggression and dominance in men wearing gray or blue, suggesting that the color red in particular influences our judgments of these traits.
The research team says it would be interesting to see if there are similarities in the interpretation of red clothing across different cultures.