Adam Pazda, a psychologist at the University of Rochester in New York, wanted to understand why men were attracted to women wearing red, as opposed to more boring colors like white. That’s any red, by the way, not just tight red dresses or some such: “It doesn’t have to be a red dress or a sexy outfit,” Pazda adds, “It can be a red T-shirt.” To find out more, Pazda and his team conducted a simple experiment:
They showed 25 men a photo of a single woman doctored to look, in different cases, like she was wearing either a red or white T-shirt. The researchers then asked the volunteers to gauge, on a scale from 1 to 9, how keen the model seemed to be on romance. In other words, the men answered the question: “Is she interested in sex?”
Men interpreted the red outfit as a signal that the woman was indeed more open to sexual advances. In fact, the guys tended to grade the woman’s disposition to sex about 1 to 1.5 points higher when she was wearing a red rather than a white tee, Pazda and colleagues report online this month in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. That perception, in turn, explains why men’s lust perks up for women in red, Pazda suggests. It’s well known that males tend to inflate a woman’s sexual appeal if they believe she’ll be more open to a pickup line.
So apparently even insignificant wardrobe choices–a red t-shirt!–can communicate unintended signals and, in turn, invite unwanted sexual attention. Predictably, the article concludes with the idea that “women should beware.” Thankfully, though, Pazda adds that the study can be illuminating for men, too: that their attitudes toward women may actually be determined by misleading cues. In other words, sometimes women just wear clothes. Novel, right?