Is Red a Performance Enhancing Color?

Aside from all the hype over genuinely performance enhancing drugs, one of the silliest performance enhancement stories revolves around the color of uniforms.

The May 19, 2005 issue of Nature published a study by Russell Hill and Robert Barton that examined whether or not the color of uniforms affected sports performance (I’m not making this up).

They examined a number of Olympic sporting where contestants were randomly assigned blue or red uniforms and found that the red-clothed athletes outperformed the blue-clad ones. “We find that wearing red is consistently associated with higher probability of winning,” Hill and Barton said.

That’s true enough, but given the relatively small sample of boxing, tae kwon do, Greco-Roman wrestling and freestyle wrestling events, not much else seems warranted. An obvious point about these events is that they specifically require interpersonal violence. Even if there is some specific bias toward players donned in red in such sports, it doesn’t follow that this holds in other competitions.

And concluding, as the researchers do, that “The color of sportswear needs to be taken into account to ensure a level playing field in sport” seems wholly unwarranted by their small sample.

In fact, it is awfully similar to the nonsense stats that sports commentators throw around. My favorite are the teams that supposedly are handicapped by either cold or hot weather typically based on ridiculously small sample sizes (usually less than 12 such games).


Red outfits give athletes advantage. Rob Roy Britt, LiveScience, May 18, 2005.

In Sports, Red Is Winning Color, Study Says. John Roach, National Geographic News, May 18, 2005.

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