Hill and Barton found their answer by studiously viewing Olympic combatants in the ring, on the mat, and in the field. "Across a range of sports, we find that wearing red is consistently associated with a higher probability of winning," the researchers write in Nature.
The pair say their results indicate that sexual selection may have influenced the evolution of humans' response to color.
Setchell, the primatologist, agrees. "As Hill and Barton say, humans redden when we are angry and pale when we're scared. These are very important signals to other individuals," she said.
The advantage of red may be intuitively known, judging from the prevalence of red uniforms in sports"though it is clearly not very widely appreciated, on a conscious level at least," Barton said.
He adds that the finding of red's advantage might have implications for regulations that govern sporting attire. In the Olympic matches he surveyed for the new study, for example, it is possible some medal winners may have reached the pedestal with an unintended advantage.
"That is the implication, though we cannot say that it made the difference in any one specific case," Barton said.
Meanwhile, Setchell notedtongue-in-cheekthat a red advantage may not be limited to sports. "Going by the recent [U.S.] election results, red is indeed quite successful," she said.
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