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Durham e-Theses
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The Influence of Red Colouration on Human
Perception of Aggression and Dominance in
Neutral Settings

WIEDEMANN, DIANA (2016) The Influence of Red Colouration on Human
Perception of Aggression and Dominance in
Neutral Settings.
Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

PDF - Accepted Version


For both humans and nonhuman species, there is evidence that red colouration signals both
emotional states (arousal/anger) and biological traits (dominance, health, and testosterone). The
presence and intensity of red colouration correlates with male dominance and testosterone in a
variety of animal species, and even artificial red stimuli can influence dominance interactions.
Depending on the context in which it is perceived, red is associated with reward (e.g., mating) or
avoidance of threat. Wearing red can therefore be advantageous in romantic or achievement
contexts. It may also increase the probability of winning sporting contests. Both perceiver effects
and wearer effects have been proposed as sources of enhanced winning chances for competitors
wearing red in sporting competitions. We tested the hypothesis that artificial (clothing) colour can
exploit the evolutionary associations between red and dominance/aggression and that this link is
even detectable in neutral (non-competitive) settings. The first two experiments investigated
whether a person wearing red was perceived as more aggressive/dominant than one wearing blue
or grey. We detected a perceiver effect for red-wearers for perceptions of aggression, dominance,
and anger that was independent of a wearer effect. This confirmed that the colour red may be a cue
used to predict propensity for dominance and aggression in human males. We then explored
differences in handgrip strength, self- and peer-assessed dominance, and actual dominant
behaviour to test the hypothesis that red-wearers are physically and mentally stronger/more
dominant than their blue-wearing opponents. Red-wearers were not stronger or perceived as more
dominant or taller than blue-wearers, but we found some evidence that they may have acted more
dominantly. However, in an online experiment rather than in a controlled laboratory setting, we
found no wearer or perceiver effects on ratings of perceived dominance, height, or strength.
Possible limitations of web-based approaches are discussed. Finally, we examined the
consequences of allowing participants to choose from the full colour spectrum rather than forcing
them to pick from only two or three clothing colours presented. When allowed to choose from the
full spectrum, participants predominantly chose red shirts to make a person appear more
aggressive or more dominant. There is some qualitative evidence for an “optimal red” in that
participants’ choices clustered within a specific part of the red spectrum and no such clustering or
colour preference was found for any of the control character traits. Overall, the results demonstrate
that, in a laboratory setting, the colour red can have consistent effects on perceptions of aggression
and dominance; this opens up a broad array of avenues for future work. These findings also have
implications for non-academic contexts (e.g., whether wearing red can impact one’s performance
in achievement contexts such as sporting contests or job interviews).

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Red, Aggression, Dominance
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Anthropology, Department of
Thesis Date:2016
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:29 Nov 2016 14:10

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