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Wearing red may boost your sex appeal

  • Story Highlights
  • The color red enhanced a man's attraction to a woman, study finds
  • Red does not affect perception of likability, intelligence or kindness
  • Possible reasons for the "red effect" -- cultural cues and biology
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By Theresa Tamkins
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Does wearing the color red give you a sexual edge? Maybe, according to a new study, which found that men find women sexier if they're sporting a crimson hue rather than, say, blue or green.

One of the images used in the study that found red clothing fans the flames of passion.

However, red won't make you look smarter or more competent, says study author Andrew Elliot, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester in New York.

"We only found the effect for attraction, so males don't rate females in red as more intelligent, more likable, or as having a better personality; they only rate her as sexier and more attractive," he says.

Men also were more likely to say they wanted to have sex with a woman and that they would be willing to spend more on a date if she were in red, according to the report in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

In a series of five studies, about 150 heterosexual men (homosexual men and those with red-green color blindness were excluded) rated photographs of women framed in red, white, gray, green, or blue, or with the woman in a red or blue shirt.

On a 7-point scale, with 1 being the least sexy and 7 a white-hot sex goddess, the color red added about 1.25 points to the rating, says Elliot. Read how to add a little adventure to your sex life

That's nice, but given the looming election, one might wonder: Does wearing red make you more attractive in the voting booth too?

Elliot says the study results don't really apply to the presidential candidates. However, he does say that red can be a negative color, depending on the setting.

"We actually have other research showing that red on the cover of an IQ test leads to worse performance, so red is actually a negative color [in some instances]," says Elliot.

"In terms of the election, I will say that if a politician wears a red tie he -- or she -- may be viewed as more dominant and that might have an effect, but again, that's way beyond our data," he explains. "Red in competence and achievement settings has a negative effect, so these things are really hard to talk about and predict right now."

Why is red so sexy? The researchers have a couple of theories. Read four myths about healthy sex

One is cultural: From red roses to Valentine's Day, red is the universally recognized sign of romance; it makes sense that men may subconsciously associate the color red with sex.

"We think that red, due to the association with hearts and Valentine's Day and lingerie and things like that, takes on a sexy meaning," says Elliot. "There's also a possibility -- a rather provocative possibility -- that there's a deeply embedded sort of tendency for heterosexual men to see red as an attraction cue because that's what happens in the wild."

For example, the rumps of some primates turn red during ovulation, so it's possible that men have some tiny portion deep in their brain that recognizes red as a mating symbol -- even though it's an association that hasn't come in handy for a few million years.

And it's not just men. The researchers think that women will find the color sexy too (tests are under way), possibly because red symbolizes dominance in male primates. Read why some women don't want sex

However, it's all speculation at this point. The study can't determine if red is sexy because we're all just a bunch of animals running around in business suits, or if red is a culturally determined sex symbol. It also can't determine if wearing red has an effect outside the laboratory.

"In the real world, we have a welter of information coming at us about smell, sight, words -- who knows what accounts for the most variance in liking and behavior?" says Elliot. "My strong guess is that if you bring this to the real world and have females who are interested in their date and wear red, they are sending the message to the male that a male isn't even aware of -- they are sending a message that 'I'm available'."

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