A new study by two psychologists from the University of Rochester literally and figuratively attempts to address the question of what attracts men to women.
Professor of psychology, Dr. Andrew Elliot and researcher Dr. Daniela Niesta, conducted five psychological experiments which showed that the colour red makes men feel more amorous toward women and found men are unaware of the role the colour plays in their attraction.
The researchers say this is the first research to provide support for society's enduring love affair with red - from the red ochre used in ancient rituals to today's red-light districts and red hearts on Valentine's Day - shades of red have been tied to carnal passions and romantic love across cultures and millennia.
Dr. Elliot says their study is the only one which scientifically documents the effects of colour on behaviour in the context of relationships.
He says it is only recently that psychologists and researchers in other disciplines have been looking closely and systematically at the relationship between colour and behaviour and while much is known about colour physics and colour physiology, very little is known about colour psychology.
Dr. Elliot says that something as ubiquitous as colour having an effect on our behaviour without our awareness, is fascinating to discover.
The researchers say although the aphrodisiacal effect of red may be a product of societal conditioning, men's response to red more likely stems from deeper biological roots.
They say research has shown that non-human male primates are particularly attracted to females displaying red - female baboons and chimpanzees, for example, redden conspicuously when nearing ovulation, sending a clear sexual signal designed to attract males.
The psychologists say their research demonstrates a parallel in the way that human and nonhuman male primates respond to red and confirms what many women have long suspected and claimed - that when it comes to sex, men act like animals - and though men might like to think that they respond to women in a thoughtful, sophisticated manner, it appears that at least to some degree, their preferences and predilections are primitive.
Their study which aimed to quantify the red effect, examined men's responses to photographs of women under a variety of colour presentations.
In one experiment, test subjects looked at a woman's photo framed by a border of either red or white and answered a series of questions, such as 'how pretty do you think this person is?', while other experiments contrasted red with gray, green, or blue.
Dr. Niesta says when using chromatic colours such as green and blue, the colours were precisely equated in saturation and brightness levels so that the test results could not be attributed to differences other than hue.
In the final experiment the shirt of the woman in the photograph, instead of the background, was digitally coloured red or blue and men were queried not only about their attraction to the woman, but their intentions regarding dating.
One question asked - "Imagine that you are going on a date with this person and have $100 in your wallet, how much money would you be willing to spend on your date?"
In all the exercises the women shown framed by or wearing red were rated significantly more attractive and sexually desirable by men than the exact same women shown with other colours and women wearing red were also more likely to score an invitation to the prom and to be treated to a more expensive outing.
The researchers say the red effect extends only to males and only to perceptions of attractiveness and red did not have the same effect on women.
In this study although it was found that red enhances positive feelings, earlier research has suggested the meaning of a colour depends on its context and Elliot and others have shown that seeing red in competition situations, such as written examinations or sporting events, leads to worse performance.
These latest findings have clear implications for the dating game, the fashion industry, product design and marketing.
The research is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.