The Color Psychology of Red

In This Article

In color psychology, red provokes the strongest emotions of any color. While cool colors like green and blue are generally considered peaceful and calming, red is considered the warmest and most contradictory of the colors. In fact, this fiery hue has more opposing emotional associations than any other color: Red is linked to passion and love as well as power and anger.

Below are some of the most common feelings and qualities that the color red can stimulate.

red color psychology
Verywell / Cindy Chung

Danger and Warning

Thanks to its long wavelength, red is one of the most visible colors in the color spectrum (second only to yellow). Its ability to instantly grab people's attention is the reason why it's often used to warn people of impending danger. Think: stop signs, sirens, fire engines, and red traffic lights.

Red is also used to convey danger in a non-literal way. Some examples include using the phrase "in the red" to describe financial loss or "red flag" to indicate when something is wrong with a person or situation.

People tend to associate red with negative, danger-bearing emotions. This could be because it is the color of fire, blood, and sometimes of poisonous or dangerous animals.

Excitement and Energy

This stimulating color is also associated with excitement.

Studies show that being exposed to or wearing red can cause some of the following physical effects:

  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Enhanced metabolism
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased respiration rate

All of these physiological changes naturally cause your energy levels to spike.

The color is also known to increase your appetite by increasing your metabolism, which is why red is such a popular color in restaurants.

Aggression

Across cultures, people intuitively associate red with the concept of anger. This relationship makes sense given that many people get red in the face from increased blood flow when they're angry.

The expression "seeing red" is thought to be based on the physical characteristics associated with anger, including redness of the face and neck, which are caused by elevated blood pressure.

Dominance

It's not just mood and emotions that the color red can affect. In the arena of sports, wearing the color red can also increase your chances of winning.

In the 2004 Olympics in Athens, competitors in four sports—boxing, Greco-Roman wrestling, freestyle wrestling, and taekwondo—were randomly assigned red or blue clothing. In all four competitions, red-clad contestants won more fights.

Many think these results are due to the link between red and perceived dominance. For instance, donning a red uniform may cause an athlete to feel dominant and perform more aggressively. Alternatively, athletes in red may be seen as more aggressive, more dominant, and more likely to win a physical competition not only by their opponents but also by the referees.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that red-clad athletes tend to have a significant advantage over their opponents. (Maybe this is why so many athletes, including the great Tiger Woods, wear red clothing when they compete.)

Passion and Desire

But red does not always signal danger and aggression. Perhaps not surprisingly, red is also linked to passion, love, and desire. These associations could explain why people wearing red are consistently rated as more attractive by the opposite sex.

In a landmark study published in 2008, researchers showed men an image of a woman and asked them to rate her attractiveness. Some men saw a woman wearing a red shirt while others saw the same woman wearing a blue shirt. Results showed that men rated the woman in red as more sexually desirable than the same woman in blue.

Power

Red can also represent power, a relationship that can be found all over modern-day society. The "power tie" worn by businessmen across the globe is, traditionally, red. And don't forget the hallowed "red carpet" that is only rolled out for the most prestigious celebrities and dignitaries.

According to some, this association with power and wealth is the reason why women find men dressed in red so attractive.

A Word From Verywell

Like other colors, responses to red often depend upon past experiences and cultural influences. Some may find red fun and playful, while others feel it is too bold, exciting, or even dominating. Consider your own feelings for the color red and think about how these factors may have contributed to your reaction (or lack of one) to this color.

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