Colour has long been thought to influence human mood, emotion, and aggression as well as being recognised as an element of signalling in competitive interactions in many non-human species (Hill and Barton, 2005). Colours have been found to contain certain unique psychological properties and can have a strong impact on our emotional feelings. (Hemphill, 1996; Wright n.d). For example, Red is viewed as a powerful and physical colour, masculine in nature that can stimulate and raise pulse while also carrying with it negative links to defiance and aggression. Blue on the other hand is viewed as the colour of the mind and with that comes connotations of efficiency, logic, coolness and comfort. Valdez and Mehrabian (1994) also found that individuals were likely to attribute emotional characteristics to colour even at a young age (Zentner, 2001). These early findings lead us to consider the impact that colour may have in sporting contests.
Research by Hill and Barton (2005) investigated the link between uniform colour and match outcome in a number of different combat sports (boxing, tae kwon do, Greco-Roman wrestling and freestyle wrestling) at the 2004 Olympics, where competitors were randomly assigned either a blue or red uniform. Interestingly their findings revealed that that for all sports there was a consistent and statistically significant pattern that showed a greater frequency of winners wearing red than blue. Conclusions can subsequently be drawn, based on earlier colour research, that this success is related to the psychological responses that individuals have to colour, in particular the perception that red is associated with dominance in the eyes of the opponent. Hill and Barton (2005) further suggested that this enhanced win rate could be reflective on an innate response to perceive red as a signal of dominance, however they did further surmise that colour would only really determine outcome in relatively even contests.
While there seems to be evidence that colour does impact performance within individual sports, Attrill, Gresty, Hill and Barton (2008) were keen to investigate whether colour also has an impact on performance in team sports. They examined the colour red and its associations with long term team success in English football. Their investigation revealed that English football teams wearing a red strip had been champions more often than would be expected on the basis of the proportion of clubs that played in red. This finding was also supported by Greenlees, Leyland, Thelwell and Filby (2008) who focused their investigation on Football penalty takers’ uniform colour. Their study revealed that penalty takers wearing red were perceived by the Goalkeepers in two key ways: 1. that they would possesses more positive characteristics than those wearing white and 2. And that their chance of successfully saving penalty kicks from them was lower than those wearing white.
While research in sport has predominantly focused on the colour red, some earlier research by Frank and Gilovich (1988) examined black uniforms and links to aggression. Black is a colour frequently associated with death in many cultures, and can psychologically be associated with something menacing (Kaya & Epps, 2004). Findings revealed that when teams (NFL and ice hockey) were wearing black there was a significant increase in the number of penalties awarded against them, which was attributed to both social perception (biased judgements of referees) and self-perception (increased aggressiveness of players themselves even though they are wearing and not seeing the colour). What is clear is that whether down to person perception, self-perception or the psychological properties they hold colour does influence the success of team and individual athletes in even contests. It is clear that this area warrants further research but that it could have implications for regulations that govern sporting attire.
Attrill, M.J., Gresty, K.A., Hill, R.A. & Barton, R. A. (2008) Red shirt colour is associated with long-term team success in English football, Journal of Sports Sciences, 26 (6), p. 577-582.
Frank M.G., & Gilovich, R. (1988) The dark side of self- and social perception: Black uniforms and aggression in professional sport, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54 (1), p. 74-85
Greenlees, I., Leyland, A., Thelwell, R., & Filby, W. (2008) Soccer penalty takers’ uniform colour and pre-penalty kick gaze affect the impressions formed of them by opposing goalkeepers, Journal of Sports Science, 26 (6), p. 569-576
Hemphill, M. (1996) A Note on adult colour emotion association. The Journal of genetic psychology: Research and theory on human development. Vol 157, No. 3, p. 275-280
Hill, R.A., & Barton, R.A. (2005) Psychology: Red enhances human performance in contests, Nature, 435, 293
Kaya, N. & Epps, H.H., (2004). Relationship between colour and emotion: A study of college students. Colour Student Journal. P. 396-406
Valdez, P., & Mehrabian, A. (1994) Effects of Colour on Emotion, Journal of Experimental Psychology, Vol. 123, No. 4, p. 394-409
Wright, A. Colour Affects. Available at http://www.colour-affects.co.uk/psychological-properties-of-colours. Accessed 29th July 2015.
Zentner, M.R., (2001) Preferences for colours and colour-emotion combinations in early childhood. Developmental Science. Vol 4, No 4. P 389-398