for National Geographic News
Note to sportswear shops: stock up on red.
When opponents of a game are equally matched, the team dressed in red is more likely to win, according to a new study.
British anthropologists Russell Hill and Robert Barton of the University of Durham reached that conclusion by studying the outcomes of one-on-one boxing, tae kwon do, Greco-Roman-wresting, and freestyle-wrestling matches at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.
In each event Olympic staff randomly assigned red or blue clothing or body protection to competitors. When otherwise equally matched with their opponent in fitness and skill, athletes wearing red were more likely to win the bout.
"Where there was a large point differencepresumably because one contestant was far superior to the othercolor 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."
In equally matched bouts, the preponderance of red wins was great enough that it could not be attributed to chance, the anthropologists say. Hill and Barton found similar results in a review of the colors worn at the Euro 2004 international soccer tournament. Their report will be published in tomorrow's issue of the journal Nature.
Joanna Setchell, a primate researcher at the University of Cambridge in England, has found similar results in nature. Her work with the large African monkeys known as mandrills shows that red coloration gives males an advantage when it comes to mating.
The finding that red also has an advantage in human sporting events does not surprise her, addding that "the idea of the study is very clever."
Hill and Barton got the idea for their study study out of a mutual interest in the evolution of sexual signals in primates"red seems to be the color, across species, that signals male dominance and testosterone levels," Barton said.
For example, studies by Setchell, the Cambridge primate researcher, show that dominant male mandrills have increased red coloration in their faces and rumps. Another study by other scientists shows that red plastic rings experimentally placed on the legs of male zebra finches increase the birds' dominance.
Barton said he and Hill speculated some speculated that "there might be a similar effect in humans. And if so, [it] could be apparent in sporting contests."
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