Men perceive women in red as more sexually receptive. Do women as well?

Credit: Image courtesy of Society for Personality and Social Psychology
The picture was used for the color manipulation in Experiments 1 and 2
(the face of the female target was intact in the experiment but is blurred
here to protect privacy). The dress color was red or white.

As I've written in earlier posts, I've been a man for most of my life, as least since the age of 25 or so.  I'd never heard of this "wearing red is a sexual signal" thing.  Really? 



Anyway, I can see how an author knowing of this common perception can influence a piece of fiction as a way for a woman character to let "him" know she's interested. 

What the researchers are examining in this study is do women see other women who happen to be wearing red as a threat to their relationship.  It's this sort of detail that helps a story succeed.  While you read this, I'm headed to Piggly Wiggly to look for women wearing red.

If I come back with a black eye, you'll understand.

Women are more likely to wear a red shirt when they expect to meet an attractive man, relative to an unattractive man or a woman. But do women view other women in red as being more sexually receptive? And would that result in a woman guarding her mate against a woman in red? A study has sought to answer these questions.

Perceptions of Sexual Receptivity
Nonverbal communication via body language, facial expressions and clothing conveys information to others, occasionally with unintended social consequences. Researchers from the University of Rochester, Trnava University, and the Slovak Academy of Sciences collaborated to study what information the color red conveys to women.

Three experiments were involved in the study. The first experiment asked individuals to compare a digital image of a woman wearing red versus a woman wearing white. Participants were asked questions about the woman's sexual receptivity, such as "This person is interested in sex," which required moving a bar along a sliding scale from "No, not at all" to "Yes, definitely." Participants rated the woman in red as more sexually receptive than the woman in white. Sixty-nine percent of participants reported they were in a committed relationship, and the results of the experiment showed that participant's relationship status did not have a significant effect on their perceptions of women in white versus red.

Derogation and Mate-Guarding
The researchers tested whether participants would derogate a woman in red and the likelihood of guarding their mate from a woman in red in subsequent experiments. "Derogation [involves] speaking poorly of another person to make them seem inferior, undesirable, or unlikeable, while making oneself seem superior and more likable by contrast," lead researcher Adam Pazda explains. "Mate-guarding is the act of protecting one's own romantic partner from romantic or sexual encounters with others." The researchers specifically tested whether women would derogate on the topics of fidelity ("I would guess that this women cheats on men"), and financial resources ("I would guess that this woman has no money").

Suggested reading
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The third and final experiment altered the conditions slightly. Instead of comparing white and red, the researchers chose to compare green and red in an effort to eliminate the possible bias of associating white and purity. "Using green allowed us to equate both hues on lightness and chroma, which allowed for a more rigorous, controlled test of the red effect," Pazda said. The participants were located in an Eastern European country, rather than the U.S. as in the two prior experiments. To determine intent to mate-guard, participants were asked: "How likely would you be to introduce this person to your boyfriend?" and "How likely would you be to let your boyfriend spend time alone with this person?"

Results from the last two experiments confirmed that women found another woman in red to be more sexually receptive, versus white or green. In terms of derogation, participants who viewed a woman in red were more likely to derogate the woman's sexual fidelity, but not financial resources. Participants did not show any difference between sexual fidelity derogation and financial resource derogation in relation to a woman in white. Women were more likely to guard their partner from a woman dressed in red if they are in a committed relationship, relative to a woman in green.
 *  *  *  *  *

Story Source:  Materials provided by Society for Personality and Social Psychology.  Adam Pazda et al. Viewing Another Woman in Red Increases Perceptions of Sexual Receptivity, Derogation, and Intentions to Mate-Guard. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, July 2014


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