The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Red is not a proxy signal for human female genitalia


School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent

Saturday All day, Plaza Level Add to calendar

Red is a colour that induces physiological and psychological effects in humans, affecting competitive and sporting success, signalling and enhancing male social dominance. The colour is also associated with increased sexual attractiveness, such that women associated with red objects or contexts are regarded as more desirable. It has been proposed that human males have a biological predisposition towards the colour red such that it is ‘sexually salient’. This hypothesis argues that women use the colour red to announce impending ovulation and sexual proceptivity, with these functioning as proxy signals for genital colour, and that men show increased attraction in consequence. In the first test of this hypothesis, we show that contrary to the hypothesis, heterosexual men did not prefer redder (naturalistically coloured) female genitalia and, by extension, that red is not a proxy signal for genital colour. We found preference for pinker shades with images of red genitalia rated significantly less sexually attractive. This effect was independent of variation in female genital morphology, and prior sexual experience. Our results refute the hypothesis that men’s attraction to red is linked to an implied relationship to genital colour and women’s signalling of fertility and sexual proceptivity.

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