Picture it. An excited crowd awaits the diva. She puts down a glass of Champagne on her dressing room table and takes one last look at herself.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the biggest attention seeker of them all?” She pouts her shiny red lips, smiles and then whispers, “Why you are, of course.” Her fans roar in eager anticipation.
A quick google search and you’ll see that Taylor Swift’s apparently taken top prize in the international show-off category. It should come as no surprise then that her favorite color is red. It’s a smart choice.
Why? Sit back, and find out how this hot, fiery temptress of a color has become a number one attention grabber.
It All Starts At Birth
When we’re babies, red is the first color that any of us ever see. We’ll go on to recognize the full color spectrum aged 5 months.
It may not have always been this way. Scientists believe there was a time in early human history when we could only distinguish red in a world of black and white. This could have helped our ancestors do things like spot ripe, red fruit or potential dangers.
It might also partly explain why the color red has so many cultural associations and why it provokes the strongest of our emotions.
Nature, Nurture or Both?
Chromology, or the psychology of color, is used when designing anything, from hotel bedrooms to cookie packages. So, can colors really affect a person’s mood?
‘Absolutely they can,’ psychologists have long argued. Understanding why this is the case is more complex.
Although color perception may be influenced by cultural conditioning, there are some broadly agreed connections between colors and emotions whatever their cause.
The Artistry of Red
Early cave dwellers adorned their walls with scenes painted using red ochre. It was far cry from the luxurious, saturated shades of red such as Vermillion, Crimson and brilliant Cadmium used by renaissance painters.
Some of their most expensive red paints, made from the crushed scales of insects like the kermes beetle, were used to attract the attention of art admirers.
Over time, a myriad of reds have become symbols of power and influence for royals and church leaders alike. There’s even a correlation between more dominant male mandrill monkeys and the brightness of red colors which cover parts of their body.
The Symbolism of Red
“Bright reds, scarlet, pillar-box red, crimson or cherry, are very cheerful and youthful. There is certainly a red for everyone.” Christian Dior was right about that.
Wearing red is a head turner- think of Scarlett O’Hara’s red party gown in ‘Gone with the Wind or the glamorous red dress Julia Roberts wore in ‘Pretty Woman.’ Would Dorothy’s iconic slippers in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ be so memorable if they hadn’t been red?
Psychologists have found that women are perceived as more attractive and sexually desirable when wearing red, sentiments echoed by Chris de Burgh in his ‘The Lady in Red.’
Somehow red causes a voyeur to prefer one potential candidate over another in the love stakes.
Behaviors Induced by the Color Red
Red increases our heart rate and can also raise our blood pressure. Drivers who get blocked in traffic by a red vehicle react more quickly and aggressively than those obstructed by cars of other colors, for example.
Red also heightens our metabolism and can make us feel more hungry. You’ll find that most global fast-food giants use red to market their products. But, there’s another reason why they do this which lies at the heart of why red is such an attention grabber.
Here’s the scientific lowdown. Objects don’t have color, they emit light which appears as color in our brains. That color is determined by the frequency of the light, red’s being lower than the others. This affects our perception of red and makes it stand out more.
It’s not hard to see then why red would be a good choice for a department store’s ‘Sale’ signs, a fire extinguisher, a London bus or indeed anything we want noticed.
Red might also give us a competitive edge. Scientists at Durham University found that men who wear red clothes send out a signal that they are angry and aggressive, in much the same way as if their face had reddened.
“We know that the colour red has an effect on the human brain,” one of the researchers explained. “This is embedded in our culture, for example the idea of wearing a red tie, known as a ‘power tie,’ for business, or issuing a red alert.
“The implications are that people may wish to think carefully about wearing red in social situations and important meetings, such as job interviews. Being perceived as aggressive or dominant may be an advantage in some circumstances but a disadvantage in others, for example where teamwork or trustworthiness is important.”
If you’re a risk taker, you’re likely to prefer using red poker chips, perhaps because the color’s become synonomous with dominance and winning.
The color red is an archetypal color; it is the first color humans mastered, fabricated, reproduced and broke down into different shades. The color red itself is a social phenomenon more than a physical material or a component of light alone.
Rich in its chromatic shades and cultural context, red will forever impact us as humans and alter the way we see things in the world around us – continually evolving our socio-cultural perceptions and the meaning of our lives.
Whether red’s properties have become embedded in our psyche because of our genes or experiences, they’re associated with survival, power and influence; all things that run as deep as the red in our veins.
We hope you enjoyed this insight into our love affair with the color red. Stand by for next month’s edition of CBA’s design series when we’ll be bringing some glamour to the ins and outs of punctuations.