If you want to win, wear red.
That's the advice of a group of British anthropologists who surveyed four sports at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens--boxing, tae kwon do, Greco-Roman wrestling, and freestyle wrestling--and determined that competitors were more likely to win if they wore red uniforms no matter which sport they played.
"Across a range of sports, we find that wearing red is consistently associated with a higher probability of winning," Russell A. Hill and Robert A. Barton of the University of Durham in England wrote in the journal Nature. "If color has no effect on the outcome of contests, the number of winners wearing red should be statistically indistinguishable from the number of winners wearing blue."
Red signals intimidation in the world of animals and shows their aggression, particularly among males where scarlet markings imply dominance. Hill and Barton surmise that red has a similar effect in human beings, especially when they compete athletically. "Whether red suppresses the testosterone of the opponent or boosts the testosterone of the individual wearing red, we don't know at the moment. We're going to look at that," Barton told the BBC News. "My hunch is that there is a bit of both going on."
In this study, the researchers randomly assigned some of the 2004 Olympic athletes to wear red or blue uniforms or protective gear. The results? Those who wore red won about 55 percent of the competitions in all four of the events. This discrepancy was even more marked when there was little difference between the competitors' skill levels; in these close victories, more than 60 percent of the winners wore red.
Hill and Barton think this also applies to team sports. They did a preliminary analysis of the Euro 2004 international soccer tournament where teams wore different colored jerseys. The teams that scored the most goals and won more frequently were also the ones who wore predominantly red-colored jerseys, compared with those who wore blue or white.
The big question: Why is red a winning color? The researchers have no clue. It does deliver a clear, unspoken message of vigor and danger, which is why stop signs are red. Hill and Barton claim the effect could be from a deep-seated evolutionary response that works subconsciously to put opponents on their back foot, notes the BBC News.
While not all teams that wear red win, The Associated Press lists some recent American sports winners that come to mind: the Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, the Detroit Pistons, the USC Trojans, and even Tiger Woods in his trademark red shirt.