“Do you know why the Yankees always win?” father Frank Abignale asks his son in the movie ‘Catch me if you can’ (2002), “Because they have Mickey Mantel? No. It’s cause people can’t stop staring at those damn pinstripes.” A recent study shows, in fact, it is actually the color red that intimidates the opponent.
Anthroplogists Russel Hill and Robert Barton of the University of Dunham analyzed the outcomes of matches in boxing, tae kwon do, Greco-Roman wrestling, and freestyle-wrestling at the 2004 Olympics in Greece. During each match, the athletes were wearing either red or blue outfits – this was randomly determined by the Olympic staff. According to the research, the ones wearing red were more likely to win.
“Where there was a large point difference—presumably because one contestant was far superior to the other—color had no effect on the outcome,” Barton said. “Where there was a small point difference, the effect of color was sufficient to tip the balance.” When comparing the equally matched bouts, however, the researchers found a significant preponderance of red wins. According to anthropologists, a difference too big to attribute to chance.
But wearing the color red does not just give you an advantage during a one-on-one match. As part of a study in 2008, a team of researchers looked into England’s soccer history and analyzed the teams’ results since 1947. They found that the clubs playing in red had the best home record and did significantly better in the home league. In comparison: their results weren’t better in matches away from home, in which soccer teams commonly do not wear their “home” colors.
Why red? Many explanations have been offered, but no real answers have been given yet. Evolutionary biologists say the color red signals male dominance and testosterone levels, which is why, for example- dominant male mandrills have increased red coloration in their faces and rear ends. In order to further look into this theory, it would be interesting to conduct a similar long-term study on female soccer teams, since women who wear red should not hold any advantage over others if this is true. Robert Barton adds that the finding of red’s advantage might also have implications for sports regulations, since his findings imply that some winners may have reached the pedestal with an unintended advantage.
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