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Title: The influence of red colouration on human perception of aggression and dominance in neutral settings
Author: Wiedemann, Diana
ISNI:       0000 0004 5990 0548
Awarding Body: Durham University
Current Institution: Durham University
Date of Award: 2016
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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).
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available