Why do you look so mad, bro? Maybe it's the red shirt

The tendency for men to be "red-faced" when they get angry has turned the color red into a social red flag, according to a Durham University study.

Danny Gallagher
CNET freelancer Danny Gallagher has contributed to Cracked.com, Mental Floss, Maxim, Break.com, Mandatory, Jackbox Games, Geeks Who Drink and many, many other publications in his never-ending quest to bring the world's productivity to a screeching halt. He lives and works in Dallas. Email Danny.
Danny Gallagher
2 min read

Getty Images Soccer players facing each other on field
Soccer players facing each other on field Getty Images/Caiaimage

A husband walks out in what he thinks is Don Draper-esque style, but instead of swooning, his wife stares at him and asks, "What the heck's wrong? Why are you angry?"

As it turns out, if the husband is wearing red, her reaction is understandable.

Men wearing red clothes are perceived to be angry and sometimes more dominant in social circles, according to a new study conducted by Durham University in North East England and published Wednesday in the journal Biology Letters.

Professors at Durham University, under the leadership of Evolutionary Anthropology Professor Rob Barton, conducted an experiment in which 50 men and 50 women were asked to rate the perceived emotional state of men in different colored T-shirts on a scale of 1-7 based on dominance and aggression. They were also asked to describe the emotional state they perceived of each person in the photos.

The survey found the red shirts gave off more feelings of anger from both male and female observers. The male participants also considered red as a signal of dominance while the female participants did not, according to a statement released by Durham University.

The association between red and anger seems to come from instincts inherited from our animal ancestors. The scientists theorized that since men often turn red-faced during states of extreme anger, learned behavior puts the human body on high alert in the presence of the color red, both on other people and in our day-to-day lives, according to Diana Wiedemann, a Ph.D. student in Durham's anthropology department who helped with the study.

"We know that the color red has an effect on the human brain," Wiedemann said in the university's statement. "This is embedded in our culture. For example, the idea of wearing a red tie -- known as a "power tie" -- for business, or issuing a red alert."

Durham University's study seems to back up similar research into the color red and its powerful association with perceiving anger or feeling hot-tempered. Another study, published in 2011, showed that the color red could evoke a stronger perception of anger than words associated with anger.

In that study, researchers at North Dakota State University and Gettysburg College conducted two experiments in which participants were asked to categorize a series of colors and a series of words with an emotion. The experiments found that "anger categorizations were faster when a red font color was involved, but redness categorizations were not faster when an anger-related word was involved," according to the study.

This must explain why we thought those "redshirts" on "Star Trek" were so mad about their dumb luck for all those years (even though gold is actually the deadlier color for USS Enterprise recruits if you do the math).