Study Finds Humans Reactions Became Faster and More Forceful When They See Red

Posted on June 3, 2011

Lady Jumping Wearing Red


A new research study has found that when humans see red, their reactions become both faster and more forceful. Andrew Elliot, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and co-author of the study, says, "Red enhances our physical reactions because it is seen as a danger cue. Humans flush when they are angry or preparing for attack. People are acutely aware of such reddening in others and it's implications."

The study measured the reactions of students in two experiments. In the first, 30 4th-through-10th graders pinched and held open a metal clasp. Right before doing so, they read aloud their participant number written in either red or gray crayon. In the second experiment, 46 undergraduates squeezed a handgrip with their dominant hand as hard as possible when they read the word "squeeze" on a computer monitor. The word appeared on a red, blue, or gray background. The colors in the study were precisely equated in hue, brightness, and chroma to insure that reactions were not attributable to these other qualities of color.

In both scenarios, red significantly increased the force exerted, with participants in the red condition squeezing with greater maximum force than those in the gray or blue conditions. In the handgrip experiment, not only the amount of force, but also the immediacy of the reaction increased when red was present.

Professor Elliot also conducted research in 2008 that found the color red can boost attraction and attention. The research study found men would spend more money on a date if a woman was wearing the color red.

Elliot says, "Color affects us in many ways depending on the context. Those color effects fly under our awareness radar."

The study was published in the latest issue of the journal Emotion.

Photos: Adam Fenster, University of Rochester