Winners wear red: How colour twists your mind

New Scientist has a fascinating article on the way the color red effects our minds. Definitely worth reading in full.

IMAGINE you are an experienced martial arts referee. You are asked to score a number of taekwondo bouts, shown to you on video. In each bout, one combatant is wearing red, the other blue. Would clothing colour make any difference to your impartial, expert judgement? Of course it wouldn’t.

Yet research shows it almost certainly would. Last year, sports psychologists at the University of M√ľnster, Germany, showed video clips of bouts to 42 experienced referees. They then played the same clips again, digitally manipulated so that the clothing colours were swapped round. The result? In close matches, the scoring swapped round too, with red competitors awarded an average of 13 per cent more points than when they were dressed in blue (Psychological Science, vol 19, p 769). “If one competitor is strong and the other weak, it won’t change the outcome of the fight,” says Norbert Hagemann, who led the study. “But the closer the levels, the easier it is for the colour to tip the scale.”

This is just the latest piece of research suggesting that exposure to certain colours can have a significant effect on how people think and act. Up to now most of the research has focused on red clothing in sport, but other colours and settings are being investigated too. It is becoming clear that colours can have an important, unappreciated effect on the way your mind works – one that you really ought to know about.

New Scientist: Winners wear red: How colour twists your mind

(via Overcoming Bias)


  1. I disagree with the conclusion that the results were skewed by unconscious preference. I think it more likely that it relates to the known effects of red and blue. Chances are, the person wearing red would be perceived as stronger and more active. This is pretty measurable stuff, when you consider that grip strength increases substantially under red light, metabolic rate increases, and so on, all of which are reversed with blue. It could well be that the person wearing red would just seem faster and more energetic. There are a lot of effects like this — for example, a dark-colored weight will seem heavier than an identical light-colored weight. Colors even change our perception of tonal pitch — Light colors make tones seem higher-pitched.

  2. But why then would they score it differently when the colors were digitally swapped?

  3. I think we’re saying the same thing. I just thought that what they are describing is just perceptual difference rather than unconscious preference — a matter of wording, really. I think unconscious preference makes it sound like everyone likes red, which isn’t true, but everyone DOES see red as warmer, etc.

  4. Obviously I think this is great…

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