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Psychology and Mental Health

Chicago, USA
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Dressed for sex: Red as a female sexual signal in humans

Author(s): Elliot AJ, Pazda AD

Abstract

Background

In many non-human primate species, a display of red by a female serves as a sexual signal to attract male conspecifics. Red is associated with sex and romance in humans, and women convey their sexual interest to men through a variety of verbal, postural, and behavioral means. In the present research, we investigate whether female red ornamentation in non-human primates has a human analog, whereby women use a behavioral display of red to signal their sexual interest to men.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Three studies tested the hypothesis that women use red clothing to communicate sexual interest to men in profile pictures on dating websites. In Study 1, women who imagined being interested in casual sex were more likely to display red (but not other colors) on their anticipated web profile picture. In Study 2, women who indicated interest in casual sex were more likely to prominently display red (but not other colors) on their actual web profile picture. In Study 3, women on a website dedicated to facilitating casual sexual relationships were more likely to prominently exhibit red (but not other colors) than women on a website dedicated to facilitating marital relationships.

Conclusions/Significance

These results establish a provocative parallel between women and non-human female primates in red signal coloration in the mating game. This research shows, for the first time, a functional use of color in women's sexual self-presentation, and highlights the need to extend research on color beyond physics, physiology, and preference to psychological functioning.

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