Red is the colour if winning is your game
18 May 2005
Special Report from New Scientist Print Edition
THE Washington Redskins, Manchester United and the Welsh rugby team have all been playing with an unfair advantage. Just seeing their red kit is seemingly enough to cow their opponents into submission even before a ball is kicked.
Russell Hill and Robert Barton of Durham University in the UK tracked success in four Olympic sports: boxing, taekwondo, Greco-Roman wrestling and freestyle wrestling. In these sports athletes do not wear national colours, but are randomly assigned either red or blue. Of 441 bouts, reds won 242 and in all four sports reds triumphed in more contests. And the red advantage was higher in close encounters: 62 per cent of red-garbed competitors won these. But in pushover contests there were similar numbers of red and blue winners. “If you’re rubbish, a red shirt won’t stop you from losing,” Barton says.
The same is true in soccer. Five teams in the Euro 2004 competition who had predominantly red in one of their two kits all did significantly better while wearing red, scoring around one extra goal per game.
Such effects could be due to instinctive behaviour, says Barton. In animal displays red in particular seems to vary with dominance and testosterone levels. Human competitors might experience a testosterone surge while wearing the colour, he says, or feel submissive when facing a scarlet opponent.
Evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar from the University of Liverpool speculates that primate eyes may be particularly sensitive to red. “The significance is then a matter of context,” he says. Red fruit is good; red competitors are bad.
Performance director of the Great Britain taekwondo team, Gary Hall, says most of his athletes don’t have a strong colour preference. But he says that if red is an advantage the sport should consider changing kits. “We should take out any anomaly like that,” Hall told New Scientist.
From issue 2500 of New Scientist magazine, 18 May 2005, page 16
As the man said, If you’re rubbish, a red shirt won’t stop you from losing, wonder how they’ll do this year?:wink: