Extraneous color affects female macaques' gaze preference for photographs of male conspecifics

Kelly D. Hughes, James P. Higham, William L. Allen, Andrew J. Elliot, Benjamin Y. Hayden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

9 Scopus citations


Humans find members of the opposite sex more attractive when their image is spatially associated with the color red. This effect even occurs when the red color is not on the skin or clothing (i.e. is extraneous). We hypothesize that this extraneous color effect could be at least partially explained by a low-level and biologically innate generalization process, and so similar extraneous color effects should be observed in non-humans. To test this possibility, we examined the influence of extraneous color in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). Across two experiments, we determined the influence of extraneous red on viewing preferences (assessed by looking time) in free-ranging rhesus monkeys. We presented male and female monkeys with black and white photographs of the hindquarters of same and opposite sex conspecifics on either a red (experimental condition) or blue (control condition) background. As a secondary control, we also presented neutral stimuli (photographs of seashells) on red and blue backgrounds. We found that female monkeys looked longer at a picture of a male scrotum, but not a seashell, on a red background (Experiment 1), while males showed no bias. Neither male nor female monkeys showed an effect of color on looking time for female hindquarters or seashells (Experiment 2). The finding for females viewing males suggests that extraneous color affects preferences among rhesus macaques. Further, it raises the possibility that evolutionary processes gave rise to extraneous color effects during human evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-31
Number of pages7
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015



  • Attractiveness
  • Body colors
  • Primates
  • Red
  • Rhesus macaques
  • Sexual signals

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