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If You Want to Be a Winner, a Red Uniform Is a Better Choice Than Blue

May 18, 2005 -- Before a tough sports competition, athletes might do well to reach for the red in their closets, say British researchers.

Red is often the color of victory, says a report in Nature's May 19 edition. Blue, on the other hand, wasn't in vogue in the winner's circle very often.

The clash of the colors was documented by Russell Hill and Robert Barton of the Evolutionary Anthropology Research Group at England's University of Durham.

It's not about fashion or superstitions about "lucky" uniforms. Instead, this might be a case of color psychology embedded in our evolutionary wiring, say the researchers.

Let the Color Games Begin

Hill and Barton checked out the uniforms of contestants in four combat sports in the 2004 Olympic Games (boxing, tae kwon do, Greco-Roman wrestling, and freestyle wrestling). Those athletes were randomly assigned to wear blue or red during competition, say the researchers.

For all four sports, athletes wearing red consistently won more fights. In 16 out of 21 rounds, more winners wore red instead of blue. Blue only bested red in four rounds. The pattern was statistically significant, say Hill and Barton.

Red may also help in team sports, say the researchers, who did a preliminary analysis of the Euro 2004 international soccer tournament. They studied five teams, all of which fared better when wearing red.

"Color of sportswear may affect outcomes in a wide variety of sporting contexts," say the researchers.

Last Hue Standing

Wait a minute, you say. Aren't sports about muscle, discipline, teamwork, strategy, and spirit?

Absolutely, say the researchers. Red wasn't a miracle worker. It didn't turn long shots into champions.

Red is probably only advantageous in close matches, say Hill and Barton. "Wearing red presumably tips the balance between losing and winning only when other factors are fairly equal," they write.

So if you're planning to step into the ring with a champion boxer, you're going to need more than red shorts on your side.

The Champion of the Color Wheel

What's so great about red? In the animal world, red's presence and intensity are linked to male dominance and testosterone levels, say the researchers.

Among humans, red is associated with anger. People literally "see red" because anger increases blood flow, which reddens the skin. Meanwhile, blue is the color seen in people who are scared, say Hill and Barton.

Which would you rather project on the playing field: aggression or fear?

"Our results suggest that the evolutionary psychology of color is likely to be a fertile field for investigation," write the researchers. They suggest that there might even be important implications for regulations about sporting attire.

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