People, Places, and Things

The psychology of design: How to create an environment in which you will thrive

The Color Red!

The color red has powerful influences on people.

Every person, be they color "experts" or regular folks, seems to have an opinion on red - when it should be used, when it should be avoided, how it affects us psychologically. . . .

Andrew Elliot and his colleagues are thoroughly researching how people living in North America respond to red. Some of their findings are more unexpected and some more predictable. In all the studies discussed here, saturation and brightness were eliminated as causes of the effects found, and stereotypical true-red hues were used.

Elliot and his co-workers have investigated red and the role in plays in romantic situations. These results are generally predictable. Women wearing a standard, typical red or standing against a similarly red background in photos are seem more attractive and sexually desirable by men then women not wearing red or near those red backgrounds. The red has no effect on a man's belief in a woman's overall likeability, kindness, or intelligence. Red seems to have a pretty clear effect here.

Not surprisingly, whether men are wearing red or standing in front of a red background has an influence on how women respond to photos of them. When men are in red or against red, women find them more attractive as well as more sexually desirable. Sound familiar? Men in red or near red are perceived by women as having higher status than men who aren't wearing or near red. The red did not influence how men perceived other men. Also, and again this will sound familiar, wearing or standing against a red background did not influence how likeable, agreeable or extraverted a man in an image seamed to women viewers.

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Some of the earlier findings by Elliott and his fellow researchers are more unexpected. When even the tiniest scrap of red is experienced during some sort of competence evaluation situation (such as while taking an IQ test), study participants do not perform as well on the test and are motivated to avoid challenging tasks. In one of the test situations, the red exposure was limited to a participant number printed on the front page of a test booklet and in some cases the exposure to red in the test booklet was very brief (2 seconds) - in each case the ramification of seeing red were the same. The research team hypothesized that these results arise because in our society tests, homework, assignments, papers, etc., are often graded with red pencils and pens, and the associations learned between red and grading - and potential failure - affect subsequent performance and behaviors.

Clearly, there are good times to wear red and bad times to wear red. As usual, context is important.

 

 

 

Sally Augustin, Ph.D., is a practicing environmental psychologist who studies person-centered design and sensory science.

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