Uncommon knowledge

Red = hot

Ladies, you can skip this item; it won’t be of much interest to you. Guys, after reading this item, you can’t say this column has never done anything for you! An international team of researchers has determined that red is your new favorite color. In multiple experiments with women around the world, the sexual attractiveness of men was enhanced by the color red, compared to colors like white, gray, green, or blue. Red appears to make men more attractive by subconsciously signaling higher status.

Elliot, A. et al., “Red, Rank, and Romance in Women Viewing Men,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (August 2010).

Different language, different feelings

Languages aren’t just neutral instruments for communication. A new study suggests that they subconsciously promote cultural affiliation. Bilingual Moroccans reacted more positively to Moroccan names when using Arabic than when using French. Likewise, bilingual Hispanics reacted positively to Spanish names when using Spanish but reacted somewhat negatively to Spanish names when using English. The authors also note that another recent study demonstrated the same effect in bilingual Arab Israelis, who reacted more positively to Arab names when using Arabic than when using Hebrew.

Ogunnaike, O. et al., “The Language of Implicit Preferences,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (forthcoming).

When in doubt, call yourself an underdog

If there’s one thing Americans are good at, it’s playing the underdog. When judging two companies — one that “started in a garage with very few resources” and “struggled to succeed” versus another that was “well resourced” and “favored to succeed” — Americans favored the former over the latter. The same effect occurred for chocolate brands with different brand biographies and was enhanced for consumers who thought of themselves as underdogs. Although the effect was found overseas too (in Singapore), it wasn’t as strong as it was in America. The research also found that a successful underdog biography combined a disadvantaged situation with passion and determination. Having just one or the other was not enough.

Paharia, N. et al., “The Underdog Effect: The Marketing of Disadvantage and Determination through Brand Biography,” Journal of Consumer Research (forthcoming).

What Cramer is good for

If you play the stock market, odds are that you’ve heard of Jim Cramer, host of CNBC’s “Mad Money.” Even though he’s just one more in a long line of market soothsayers — and has had some notable busts — thousands of investors watch his show, so he does have an impact. Indeed, a recent analysis confirms that his picks, especially for small-company stocks, can move the market. More importantly, though, the authors of the analysis conclude that “returns over a 6-month horizon provide some evidence in favour of Cramer’s stock-picking ability.” However, they also note that if you bought a small-company stock right after he recommended selling it, you got the best returns of all.

Lim, B. & Rosario, J., “The Performance and Impact of Stock Picks Mentioned on ‘Mad Money’,” Applied Financial Economics (July 2010).

Incest and attraction

Not only do laws and customs proscribe incest, but it’s generally assumed that we’re biologically programmed to avoid it. According to new research, though, there is “some truth” to the Freudian view that people have an innate incestuous inclination. In one experiment, men and women were asked to rate the sexual attractiveness of opposite-sex strangers. Unbeknownst to some of the participants, the researchers subliminally flashed a picture of the participant’s opposite-sex parent before showing the picture of the stranger. Participants were more attracted to strangers after being exposed to the subliminal picture of their parent. In another experiment, the researchers morphed the images of strangers with the participant’s own face. The combined images were seen as more attractive. On the other hand, when participants were told that a face had been morphed with their own — even if it hadn’t — they were less attracted to it.

Fraley, C. & Marks, M., “Westermarck, Freud, and the Incest Taboo: Does Familial Resemblance Activate Sexual Attraction?” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (forthcoming).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist.

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Full article and photo: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/08/15/red__hot/