Q: Can the color of my clothing make me a better salesman?
A: Believe it or not, you can make yourself more persuasive by just changing the color of your wardrobe.
In July 2014, two researchers published a study in the journal Psychology and Marketing examining the relation between clothing color and persuasion.
The authors made a few interesting observations (from previous research):
- Red is a potent color for humans and animals alike.
Red is associated with power, dominance, and authority in many human cultures.
Red also signals dominance and mating in the animal kingdom.
This can be used to people's advantage. President Obama also wears red ties when delivering important policy statements (and he's not the only politician who does this). Red is often chosen for advertisements and brands that want to grab attention.
So the researchers hypothesized that wearing red clothing may influence how salesmen are perceived.
A male model was chosen as a “communicator,” and he was photographed sitting at a desk with a computer.
- Two pictures were taken – in one, the model is wearing a red sweater, in the other, a white sweater.
94 undergraduate research participants were given a transcript of a persuasive argument (in this case, an argument that water fluoridation is unhealthy – similar to the arguments made by water filtration/purification system salesmen).
- Half of the transcripts had a picture of the white sweater communicator, the other half got the red sweater communicator.
- Then, the participants rated the extent to which they believed the argument was accurate on a 7-point scale. Second, they rated the extent to which they rated the communicator as likeable.
On the communicator's likeability, the sweater made no difference.
However, the communicator wearing the red sweater was rated as significantly more accurate (even though the transcript of the article was exactly the same for both groups).
A red sweater is large and “in-your-face.” Does this effect exist when the communicator is wearing just a little red?
The same procedure was followed as in Study 1, only this time, the male model wore a black suit with a red tie in one photo, and a black suit with a light blue tie in the other.
- Everything else was the same except tie color (red vs. light blue). The man still sat at the same desk with a computer.
This time 151 undergraduates rated the pictures. Half of them got the same persuasive transcript with the red-tie communicator, the other half got the transcript with the blue-tie communicator.
Once again, the man wearing the red tie was rated as significantly more accurate, despite the persuasive argument being exactly the same.
And once again, the “likeability” of both photos was the same.
The researchers stated that this shows that red can enhance persuasiveness in both casual (sweater) and formal (suit and tie) contexts.
We know that red didn't boost the man's likeability, but maybe the boost in “accuracy” perception was due to red making the man seem more attractive?
- Previous research has repeatedly shown that attractive people are more persuasive and rated higher on most positive attributes.
Once again, the same procedure was followed as study 2 (red tie vs. light blue tie), only this time the participants also rated the attractiveness of the man.
54 participants looked at both photos and rated the communicator's likeability, accuracy, and attractiveness.
In this study, the red-wearing man was actually rated as LESS attractive.
- In previous research, red clothing is usually considered more attractive, but only in romantic contexts. The researchers suggested that a persuasive argument about water fluoridation by a man sitting at a desk with a computer is not really a romantic context (but if that's romantic to you, hey, I'm not here to judge).
- But this shows that the man didn't get a boost in persuasiveness based on being more attractive.
The science here suggests that you can boost people's perceptions of your persuasiveness (as evidenced by how “accurate” people rate your arguments) by simply putting red in your wardrobe.
It's not voodoo, it's the psychology of perception.
The color red is potent, and is linked to dominance and power. Advertisers, graphic designers, and politicians know this already, and now science seems to confirm it!
If you're a salesman or businessman and you want a boost to your persuasiveness, consider a red tie!
Bashir, N. Y., & Rule, N. O. (2014). Shopping under the influence: Nonverbal appearance-based communicator cues affect consumer judgments. Psychology & Marketing, 31(7), 539-548. Link: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/mar.20715/abstract