Why is red associated with danger- Explained using science & psychology
Red has been used since time immemorial to symbolize love, passion, heat and fire. But red is also the traditional color of anger, hatred, warning and danger. This association of red with danger has been exemplified in many ways from ancient to modern times:
- Mars, the red planet, was so named after the Roman God of War.
- In the Middle Ages, a red flag was used by warships to indicate that they would show no mercy to their enemy. A red flag was also used by defenders of a town or castle to indicate that they would fight to defend it.
- The term “red alert” originated in World War II to designate the highest level of alert to prepare for an enemy attack or combat. It was a signal aboard naval warships for everyone available to go to battle stations as quickly as possible. Since then, “red alert” has been used as the highest level of emergency or threat in several warning systems including the U.S. Homeland Security Advisory System and the British BIKINI state.
- A red flag is raised in automobile races if there’s a danger to the driver.
- A red card is given to a football player if he makes a dangerous play or seriously violates the rules.
- Red is used to indicate the highest level of warning of an enemy or terrorist attack.
- On roads, red is the international color of stop signs and stop lights to warn vehicles to stay where they are.
- Red is also used to indicate the highest threat level of natural disasters and catastrophic hazards.
- A person who is angry is said to “see red”.
So, the question is Why is red used to indicate danger? There is no dearth of colors; so why not green or yellow or blue? The answer, as we shall now see, is a mix of science of psychology.
Why Red is associated with danger- Scientific reason:
Red has the longest wavelength among all the colors in the visible spectrum (remember VIBGYOR?). Its long wavelength implies that red color is scattered the least. Thus, it is easily visible over long distances even in conditions such as rain and fog. Now, obviously if you want to alert or warn somebody about an impending danger, you would need a color that has the greatest visibility.
Also, red is the brightest color in daytime, thus able to attract the maximum attention. It is for this same reason that lifeguards wear red-colored jackets as it enables them to be easily found.
Why Red is associated with danger- Psychological reason:
Studies have shown that red is probably the most intense color and invokes the strongest reaction not just among humans, but among primates as well. The level of reaction decreases gradually with the colors orange, yellow and white. This makes red suitable for warnings about enemy and terrorist attacks. Since red is such an emotionally charged color, a primary school in UK told teachers not to mark children’s work in red ink because of the negative connotations associated with red.
Red has also long been associated with blood, which is in turn associated with courage, sacrifice, revolution and pain. Because of this connection with pain, red evokes a feeling of fear and alertness that makes it suitable as a color of danger or warning.