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Psychology: Red enhances human performance in contests




Red coloration is a sexually selected, testosterone-dependent signal of male quality in a variety of animals1,2,3,4,5, and in some non-human species a male's dominance can be experimentally increased by attaching artificial red stimuli6. Here we show that a similar effect can influence the outcome of physical contests in humans — across a range of sports, we find that wearing red is consistently associated with a higher probability of winning. These results indicate not only that sexual selection may have influenced the evolution of human response to colours, but also that the colour of sportswear needs to be taken into account to ensure a level playing field in sport.

Signals biologically attributed to red coloration in males may operate in the arena of combat sports.

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Author information


  1. Evolutionary Anthropology Research Group, University of Durham, Durham DH1 3HN, UK

    • Russell A. Hill
    •  & Robert A. Barton


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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Russell A. Hill.

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