As any wedding singer or bartender can tell you, there’s a lot of really sappy songs that mention women who wear red. Turns out, there may be a reason: men are more attracted to them.
In a study recently published in the European Journal of Psychology, researchers at the University of Rochester found that men who are shown pictures of a woman in a red dress want to ask her more amorous questions than men who are shown a picture of the same woman wearing blue or green. They also want to sit closer to her. (More on Time.com: 5 Little-Known Truths About American Sex Lives)
“In prior studies, we’d shown that men view women in a red shirt or with a red background as sexier,” says Professor Andrew Elliot, the lead author of the paper. “So it looked like red was an aphrodisiac. We wanted to know if this led to more amorous behavior.”
Researchers gave male university students photos of a woman, told them they were about to meet her and asked them to choose some questions to ask her from a pre-selected list. Women in red elicited more come-on type questions like, “What do you like to do on dates?” Men who thought they were going to meet the woman in blue went more boilerplate, like “What’s your major?” (More on Time.com: The Fashion of Sarah Palin)
In another experiment, men were again told they would meet the woman in the photo, but this time they were taken to a room with two chairs, which they were asked to rearrange. The men who thought they were going to meet the red-clad woman moved the chairs closer together than did the men who were meeting the same lady in green.
(Incidentally, the men never got to meet the woman, in red or any other color. Sometimes, especially in science, things don’t work out the way you hope.)
Why were the guys so keyed up by red? It can’t be because it was the most eye-catching color, because the researchers made sure all the colors were equally bright and vivid. “And there’s no evidence that red captures the attention more,” says Elliot. In some contexts, in fact, he’s found that the color is something of a turnoff. In a previous study conducted by Elliot, having red on the cover of an IQ test led to lower scores.
So is red a come-hither color because we’ve all grown up seeing red on heart-shaped candy boxes on Valentine’s Day, on sexy Uhura on Star Trek, on the covers of romance novels, or on Michelle Pfeiffer makin’ whoopee? Or is it a biological impulse, an echo of the mating urge primates feel when they see a female primate’s rear end has turned bright red, a sign she’s in estrus? Elliot believes it’s both, that our culture has reflected and enhanced our biology. (More on Time.com: Forget Pain Pills, Fall in Love Instead)
However, if your red dress in the wash, or no longer fits, don’t despair. The guys in white coats believes hot pink might work almost as well. After all, says Elliot,”Red is a more powerful pink.”