Why is red the “color of power”?

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Red is everywhere – celebrities walk the red carpet, politicians wear red ties, and lots of sports teams wear it. There have even been studies showing that the same person is perceived as being more attractive when wearing red.

The question is, why? What’s the biological explanation for this?

In: Biology

8 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

Human vision evolved to be most sensitive to green, probably because 90% of nature is green due to chlorophyll, and being sensitive to green makes it easier to discern things that don’t belong, like venomous snakes. Many other animals seem to have similarish vision.

Red stands out from that. Plants use red to stand out with flowers and fruits that are designed to attract pollinators and animals to eat the fruit and spread the seeds. That’s why so many berries are red. Many poisonous or venomous animals with [aposematic colors](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aposematism) are red to stand out. Red is also the color of our blood, and we’ve evolved to notice blood, both coming from ourselves and from prey.

That’s why stop signs are red and stop signals are red and warning signs are red. We already know deep in our subconscious that red is important. It could be food or it could be danger, but it’s something we need to pay very close attention to.

Blue might also stand out, but blue is a lot harder to make for physics reasons. Most things (but by no means all) in nature that appear blue do not use a blue pigment, but instead have complex microscopic structures that scatter light to appear blue just like the sky. That is, they don’t absorb the other colors and reflect blue, the way that pigments do, but rather they work like tiny prisms to split the different colors apart and then only send blue towards you. That’s a lot of work. It pays off for the organisms that do it, but it’s difficult and, as a result, fairly rare in nature.

Our color vision is quite good and we’re capable of detecting blue, but it’s somewhat weaker than our red perception, which itself is significantly weaker than our green perception.

So, basically, our vision evolved to look for very subtle differences in green, and then to notice things that are definitely *not* green, which are usually red.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Most of out perception with colors is probably based on natural things that existed since the beginning of time.

Anonymous 0 Comments

One evolutionary psych theory (as dubious as that field is) is that it’s the color of both blood and lots of types of ripe fruit. When you see red, it usually means either you’re injured or that there’s food available, which means a. your mind is more perceptive of the color red, so it gets noticed more easily, and b. you become more alert and energetic to be able to escape danger or drive you to get the food, hence why it’s generally associated with sex, anger, hunger, etc., anything that has to do with immediate action or desire to do something.

The color green is the opposite: since in nature it’s almost ubiquitous, it doesn’t signal danger, it just gives off a general “relax” signal, so you’re more compelled to just stay put.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Also, vibrant red dye for clothing was very expensive in the past so it was associated with rich people. 

Anonymous 0 Comments

It’s important to note that it’s not universal. It varies by culture. You just happen to live in a culture that likes red.

It used to be purple, because that color was expensive to make and it was a way to show off wealth, but now it’s cheap enough that nobody cares.

Anonymous 0 Comments

I would have thought that it’s because of the color of blood. The powerful are powerful then and now precisely because they spill blood. I’m basic though, so yeah maybe it’s about something more complicated..

Anonymous 0 Comments

In European history, Purple is the *actual* color of power. Purple was the most difficult and expensive dye to make, and it was consistently the color of royalty.

However, as far back as ancient Greece, a “crimson carpet” was an indicator of godliness. I can’t find any sources that explain why *red* specifically. A reasonable theory would be that carpets were typically made of furs in antiquity, and there is no game animal with red fur from the Mediterranean or Middle East. That means red is “otherworldly” (and expensive to create) in clothing or carpets.

We generally find red things to be *striking* because they stand out. Our natural world doesn’t have a lot of solid red in it. Neither does our current world, for that matter. This means *solid red* stands out as a color and can feel otherworldly.

Some folks have also theorized that we are attracted to red because it is the color of ripe fruit, ovulating sexual organs in pre-human primates, and/or blood.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Red, specifically carmine red was the most expensive color to make for a large period of time exceeding even the cost of tyrian purple.

Red became associated with the rich and powerful as only the ultra wealthy could afford it. As synthetic dyes became commonplace people wanted to imitate the fashion styles of the Ultra wealthy, one of the ways they did that was to imitate the colors.

Red is also a color that appears rarely in nature. This gives it a more unique look that stands out much better most other colors.

Depending on the culture what exact color is associated with the ultra wealthy varies. Red and purple are the most common in western society, but in Chinese culture historically the color of royalty was yellow. Which is why you will find in Chinese culture yellow to be more common than others.