In ancient Roman mythology Mars, the red planet, was depicted as the god of war while red is famously said to drive bulls wild with anger. Such depictions of red as an aggressive colour are abound in society, and a recent study highlights how these perceptions leak into the workplace too.
It found that men who are wearing red clothing at work are subconsciously sending out a signal that they’re both angry and aggressive.
Why Red Means War
The study, by researchers at Durham University, saw participants shown images of the same man, with the images manipulated so that the man appeared to be wearing different coloured shirts. The participants were then asked to rate each individual on various traits, including aggression.
The participants were also asked to judge the emotional state of the man in the picture. Interestingly, the men in red were regarded as being angrier than their peers, with this translating into being seen as more aggressive than the men wearing either blue or grey shirts.
Interestingly though, this was largely a gender thing, with men seeing red as a sign of dominance, but women not at all.
Of course, this is far from purely a human thing, as there are many instances of red being used to signal aggression in nature too. It’s common, for instance, for male animals to display red colours as part of mating competitions, and the researchers believe their finding highlights how common such displays are in humans too.
"We know that the colour red has an effect on the human brain. 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," they say.
Should You Wear Red at Work?
If that is the case, should you wear red at work or opt for something more neutral? The authors suggest that it all depends on the circumstances.
"The implications of our research are that people may wish to think carefully about wearing red in social situations and perhaps 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," they say.
The research team have previously highlighted the impact red clothing has in areas such as sport, with athletes in red outfits generally being more competitive and aggressive. Their study is believed to be the first that has explored how the colour influences our perceptions of dominance in more neutral settings, such as the workplace.
Of course, there should be a slight note of caution about the findings. The research team deliberately limited their study to men, as they felt that the results would have become much more complex, and, therefore, harder to analyse, had they also studied the effect of red clothing on our perceptions of women. Although they do suggest that this may be something they will explore at a later date.
Until then, however, it appears clear that if you want to come across as dominant and aggressive at work, then red clothing may help you. However, coming across in such a way may not always be that desirable.
Do you regularly wear red clothing to work? Do you think that it makes you appear more aggressive to your co-workers than when you wear more neutral colours?