Do teams in red really have an advantage?

Red is the new black

There have been numerous studies over the years that appear to suggest that ‘teams in red win more’. For example, during the 2004 Olympics in Athens, scientists conducted research on contestants in four combat sports by randomly assigning them red and blue outfits. If colour wasn't a factor, there should have been roughly equal numbers of winners for both colours… but that wasn't the case. In 21 rounds, 16 of them had considerably more red winners than blue. Not only this, 19 out of the 29 weighted classes experienced the same pattern. In football, it has often been remarked upon that our victorious World Cup team in 1966 wore red as supposed to the usual white and has never won a World Cup or European Championship since. For Manchester United, they have won a record 13 Premier League titles and the next most successful team with three titles is Arsenal who also play in red.

Having first heard this in the UIV, it seemed illogical to me that any team could suddenly play better simply based on the colour of their kit. The first thing to realise about the theory is that it actually only applies when teams are fairly evenly matched. This is because red’s effect on people’s behaviour is an overall increase in confidence, not an unexplained increase in ability. Essentially, it is enough to tip the balance in a close game but if one team is obviously superior it won’t have any effect.

But what could be the science behind this somewhat bizarre concept? It is all down to human psychology. Throughout the animal kingdom, red is associated with male dominance, sexual draw, and danger. In one experiment, ringed birds with red leg bands gained higher spots in the pecking order than those without. The vividness of the colour is why it is used for things such as danger and stopping signs in society. Some poisonous frogs even display the colour to ward off any predators. This is all very well, however it may be hard to see what effect these associations would have on the pitch.

As it stands, the theory is that playing in red will trigger an increase in the production of the hormone testosterone. This makes a person feel a greater sense of self-pride and dominance. When in a game situation, that could cause a player to have an enhanced performance whilst also intimidating the opponent.

This is the conclusion that researchers from the University of Durham came to but it is not the only one out there. Other sources have suggested that the heightened chances of winning could be down to visibility. Playing in red will mean you can see your teammates more easily, perhaps generating a greater accuracy when passing and catching.

A further study at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 suggested that the results in 2004 were in fact down to the referees’ perceptions of the colour. The scientists used digital manipulation to present taekwondo fights to a series of experienced referees. Despite judging the same fights, referees awarded more points to contestants who had been photoshopped red rather than blue. It wasn't so much that the data in 2004 was wrong; it is just that the explanation came from the wrong place. Essentially, the human associations of red with victory and dominance caused the referees to favour the red side whenever there was a close call.

Overall, the data does seem to imply that red has some effect on performance however I’m still not totally convinced that this is the source of LEH’s dominance on the lacrosse pitch.

Issy Jones VII