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Reviewing the Effect of the Color Red: Does Red Make Us Perform Better?

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Reviewing the effect of the Color Red:
Does Red make us perform better?
In many contexts, individuals compete to show dominance over others, whereas dominance can be due to different factors. Several studies attribute a reaction to the color red to the success in competitions, but however in different ways. This review is meant to elaborate on the different hypothesizes about the color red and it’s effect on competitions and the methods used to test these hypothesizes.
Hill and Barton (2005) suggested that the presence of the color red is very influential in competitive settings by triggering a feeling of dominance and aggression in the competitor when s/he wears the color. They refer to the evolutionary association between red and it’s effect on testosterone levels in individuals, that reflect male dominance and therefore induce fear in an opponent.
Hill and Barton (2005) observed differences in the outcome of the Olympic Games 2004 in which competitors were randomly assigned to wear red or blue outfits. Given that in symmetric contests (in which competitors had relatively equal abilities) the competitors wearing red had a much higher rate of winnings, they hypothesized, that this effect was due to the production of testosterone elicitated by the presence of the color red. Nevertheless, Hill and Barton imputed the outcomes of combat contests only to the performance of the competitors leaving out external factors that are involved in rating the outcomes like the subjective evaluation of the referee, which can be seen as possible lurking variables.
This is what a second study of Hagemann, Strauss and Leißing (2008) takes into account. They conducted an experiment in which they proved that referees are biased and therefore perceive the competitors wearing red as performing better. To do so, they let 42 experienced referees watch the same video-taped excerpts of tae kwon do fights in a random order, in which the competitors showed equal abilities, but in which the color of the competitors’ protective gear (red or blue) was changed with a graphic computer program half of the time. This made it possible to eliminate the effect the perception of red could have on the competitors performance and to focus only on the bias of the referee, which came out to be very strong (the number of points given were conspicuously higher for the red competitor than for the blue competitor, even if the color was reversed graphically). This method of testing the impact of colors on the referee’s judgment is conducted in a more controlled setting and therefore can be seen as an experimental study which is less prone to biases and confounds than the observational study of Hill and Barton. But nevertheless it leaves out the question about possible explanations of the “psychological effect” that is triggered by different colors, whereas the first study gives an evolutionary explanation for this effect.
To conclude, it is to remark that both studies contribute to an understanding of the effect of red on the outcomes of competitions. Neither of them proves the other wrong, and both of them have their advantages and limitations. Although the observational study of Hill and Barton (2005) has low internal validity and therefore cannot be used to infer causality between the variables that were considered, it is high in external validity. Because the setting (Olympic Games 2004), in which the effect of the color red was observed, represents reality, you can generalize the correlation between performance and the color red to many different real world settings. In contrast, in the experimental study of Hagemann, et al. (2008), possible confounds between the effect of red and performance are eliminated by only manipulating the competitor’s color of gear which only influenced the perception and evaluation of the referee. This is why this study has very high internal validity, which makes it possible to draw conclusions about causality, even though it is not convenient to use for generalizations to the external world.
Nevertheless, to get a full understanding of the phenomenon of red and it’s effect on combat sports, further studies can be suggested. First, to find out whether competitors are influenced by the perception of red just like the referee is, it would be of high interest to conduct an experimental study, which eliminates the referees bias.
Besides this, the so called “psychological effect” causing either the good performance of competitors or the biased judgment of the referee is needed to be clarified.…...

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