From roses to the hearts of Valentine's day, red has long symbolized love and sex. Previous studies have shown that men find women more appealing when they display the scarlet hue. But could wearing the color of passion in an online dating profile photograph increase a woman's chances of being contacted by a would-be suitor?
Throughout myths and culture, blushing shades of scarlet have enjoyed a strong association with the romantic realm. Consider Aphrodite's rose or the Lady in Red. But its seeming ability to make men more desirous of women who don the color may have its roots in our evolutionary past. During their fertility window, the genital area of our female primate relatives, including baboons, macaques, and chimpanzees turn scarlet, most likely to attract males. Similarly, in humans it has been found that during ovulation women’s faces and/or bodies become more rosy because of heightened blood vessel activity.
In keeping with both the social and biological factors that appear to have intimately tied red and romance, studies show that men regard women who display this shade more appealing across a range of situations, such as hitchhiking and waitressing. Since these studies were carried out in face-to-face situations between a red-clad female confederate (i.e., a female participant acting undercover) and unsuspecting males, the possibility remains that they could have been influencing each other's behavior. In other words, the extent to which the color itself swayed the men's behavior is unclear. As such, Nicolas Gueguen and Celine Jacob of the Universite´ de Bretagne-Sud wanted to investigate whether the same effect would translate in a more static experimental condition. That is, a context that is devoid of the human spark.
To explore this question, the scientists recruited women who had registered personal ads on several online dating sites. They were between the ages of 20 and 30, and explicitly stated that they wanted to meet a man. And of vital importance, the researchers selected women who posted color photographs displaying their faces as well as their clothed chests.
The confederates were instructed that the experiment would span eight to nine months and required that no further alterations, aside from color manipulation, should appear in their dating profile during this stretch. They also recorded the date and hour of each initial e-mail they received from a man who wanted to make contact after he discovered her dating profile on the website where it was posted.
With the magic of photoshop, the authors changed the color of the clothed chest area in the women’s photos every 12 weeks, rotating randomly through the colors red, black, white, yellow, blue or green. By the study's end, data for 26 women were available. In total, 2064 men addressed an e-mail to the confederates in response to their dating profiles.
What did the researchers find? The women received more contacts from men in response to their online dating profiles when they wore red as opposed to any of the other five colors. The effect was statistically significant, and translated into an increase ranging from 4 to 6.1 percent, with the colors red and black demonstrating the largest difference.
The authors maintain that whether it is biology or culture that is driving the relationship between color and male interest, the study has the potential to deepen our understanding of the power of red. In both instances, scarlet appears to be a signal of women's receptivity. Even virtually, Gueguen and Jacob contend, the presence of this color seems to influence male perceptions of female appeal.
And given that dating is a numbers game, who wouldn't want to boost the odds in their favor?
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