Red Scare

Here's some provocative, if underpowered, research findings (via the guy at Scared Monkeys, whose name is actually... Red):

"Across a range of sports, we find that wearing red is consistently associated with a higher probability of winning," report Russell A. Hill and Robert A. Barton of the University of Durham in England. Their findings are in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

Red coloration is associated with aggression in many animals. Often it is sexually selected so that scarlet markings signal male dominance.

Just think of the red stripes on the scowling face of the male Mandrill, Africa's largest monkey species. But red is not exclusively a male trait. It's the female black widow spider that is venomous and displays a menacing red dot on her abdomen.

Similarly, the color's effect also may subconsciously intimidate opponents in athletic contests, especially when the athletes are equal in skill and strength, the researchers suggest.

One's thoughts immediately turn to the Red Sox, who didn't wear much red until the past few years. In their previous world series appearances, they've lost to teams like the 1949 Cardinals and... 1975 Reds... But you can't overlook the fact that the most dominant team last century wore blue pinstripes. Also, in NFL football, the dynasties of the Patriots, Cowboys, Steelers, Packers, Bears... not a red shirt or helmet in the bunch (The Patriots in particular have done much better since moving away from red).

There ought to be a more innovative way to study this, a la Steven Leavitt's Freakonomics, where looked at the statistics behind Sumo matches and found it's likely some important status-determining matches are thrown. The current red study just doesn't seem to have a lot of data behind it, especially the team sport analysis. I'm not sure how they can do better, though, short of having the same teams play each other dozens of times, switching uniforms halfway through.

Besides, even if there is a visceral reaction to the color red, it's hard to say whether it would always be negative. If red arouses the fight-or-flight response, it seems just as likely that opponents would fight harder, rather than be intimidated. I think bulls would agree with me.

And if this turns out to be true, it may go a ways toward explaining the "Red Shirt phenomenon" of classic Star Trek, in which hostile aliens would always spare Kirk, Spock, and McCoy but kill the random crewman with the red shirt.