What the Colour Red Means

what the colour red means

Ever wondered what messages different colours convey, and why?

The marketing industry wonders about it a lot, and puts even more money into understanding it.

Colour is a fascinating thing, our appreciation of it being entirely perception-based. Colours are known to hold different subliminal associations and to trigger certain responses.

Maybe you think that red rises the pulse rate of every (wo)man and beast, but you’d be wrong. So what does the colour red symbolise? On our journey through colour, let’s turn to red and find out more.


1. In the West, red symbolism has its roots in religion

Red has always held a special place in the Western world, in many cultures being considered the only colour to be used or worn for social purposes and the first colour to be developed for painting and dying.

In medieval times, red held both religious significance, representing both the the blood of Christ and the fires of damnation. Red fell out of favour with the Protestant Reformation that came to see it as indecent and immoral because of its associations with luxury and the excesses of the Catholic Church.


2. Red for passion … or prosperity?

Depending on the country, colours can hold a very different significance. Nowadays in the West — and maybe a hangover from the Protestant Reformation — red is still linked to luxury, as well as passion and lust, allowing for lots of over-priced red cards, flowers and gifts around St Valentine’s Day.

Conversely, in China, red symbolises long life and good luck, prosperity and good fortune, and so is the colour traditionally worn by brides. It is also the colour of the Chinese New Year.


3. Red is the colour of the brave and the bold

Some attribute the intrinsic power associated with the colour red in many cultures to its associations with the two natural elements of fire and blood. The colour of blood, red has also therefore become linked to notions of sacrifice, danger and courage.

In Roman mythology, Mars was the god of war, again bringing in a theme of valour and blood, but did you know that the red planet appears to be reddish in colour because it is covered in iron-oxide … which is in fact the same element that gives blood its colour!


4. Red creates a sense of immediacy

Road signs, traffic lights and some of your the most recognisable consumer brands (think McDonalds and Coca Cola), they all use red as it is proven to create a sense of urgency … which can then be used to alert people to danger, or simply encourage them to buy more products!


5. Red seems nearer than it is

How come?

Red is actually the colour with the longest wavelength, so even if it is not always the most visible colour, it can appear nearer and this attracts our focus more easily … which is another good reason to use it for any road signs that designed to alert, rather than simply inform.


6. Want to be noticed? Wear red

We can want to draw attention for other reasons that simply to alert people to danger! If you want to be noticed, and for whatever reason, wear red. Stylists suggest wearing a touch of red for important meetings as the colour symbolises determination.

A study conducted by the University of Rochester even found that the colour red made men more attracted to women. When shown the same woman dressed in both blue and red, there was a preference for the latter.


7. Red may turn people on … but not chickens

Whereas red has been proved to stimulate desire in humans, it has the opposite effect on chickens. Red light actually helps them sleep better!

To avoid cannibalism and pecking problems, poultry farmers use red-tinted lights to induce a calming effect on the birds, reducing cannibalism and feather picking. Blue-green light conversely stimulates growth.


8. Red is the first colour we see

Coming back to red having the longest wavelength in the visual spectrum for a moment, that means that it is also the first colour that newborns are able to distinguish from shades of grey at around the two-week mark.


9. And red is also the colour men also have most trouble seeing

Red is by far the most frequent colour in any disorders associated with so-called colour blindness.

In fact, researchers at Arizona State University made the groundbreaking discovery that the gene, credited with perceiving the colour red, is to be found in the X-chromosome. Women, with two X-chromosomes, can compensate much more easily therefore any eventual errors. In fact, women in general have an easier time than men distinguishing shades of red.


10. And bulls can’t actually see red at all!

Maybe you think that matadors have red capes to attract a bull’s attention and arouse its anger? The thing is bulls can’t see red. No, seriously!

The bull simply sees the waving fabric as a signal to charge. Sometimes colour choices are for much more practical reasons, and in this case, unfortunately, a red cape is to mask the bloodstains …


11. Red or beautiful?

In some languages, one word can mean ‘red,’ ‘beautiful,’ and ‘colourful’ all at once. Coloratus in classic Latin and colorado in modern Castilian can both mean ‘red’ or simply ‘colored.’ In Russian, the word for ‘red’ (krasnyy) has the same root as the word for ‘beautiful’ (krasivy).


12. Winners wear red

 A 2005 study by British scientists, based on the results of the 2004 Summer Olympics, found that athletes who wore red had an advantage over blue-suited competitors.

Red included in exam papers has, however the opposite effect. Researchers some years back at the University of Rochester and the University of Munich concluded that ‘even a hint of red’ on an exam paper could negatively affect performance.


Red certainly is a rock and roll kind of colour.

Some good reasons in there to splash a little red into your outfit for your next big work meeting or date.

Did you find discovering what the colour red symbolises interesting? Maybe you want to find out what other colours may say about you? Check out the articles below:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept the Privacy Policy

Scroll to Top