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Forever Red: The research behind the color

Man in WSSU red stands out during a football game in the stands at Bowman Gray Stadium

For Rams everywhere, red is more than just a color: It’s a passion.

This article first appeared in Archway Magazine.

For Rams everywhere, red is more than just a color: It’s a passion.

As Winston-Salem State University prepares for Homecoming 2018, Archway magazine interviewed the experts – WSSU faculty – to see if they could shed some light on what makes red forever.

MORE: What to expect for Homecoming

Red in Literature

Dr. LaVie Leasure, associate professor of English, says when she heard of Forever Red – the theme for Homecoming 2018 – she thought back to the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood.”

“Contrary to all the bland landscape around her, Little Red Riding Hood has become the centerpiece in the forest,” she says. “That’s what I think of when I think of WSSU. That boldness makes us appear different, more exciting, more participatory. Homecoming is very romanticized. It holds that place of legacy and remembrance.”

Leasure says the color red has been used since the very beginning of written literature. A power example: Dorothy’s red slippers in Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz.”

“Authors used the color to spark that imagery and the imagination through words to convey fire, boldness and love,” Leasure says.

Red in Art and Design

Dr. Scott Betz, professor of art and chair of the Department of Art + Visual Studies, says, red has many, often contradictory symbolic meanings.

According to Betz, color theory goes back to China in 1600 B.C.E. and the five elements philosophy, each with its own color.

“In China today, each color has its own unique symbolism. Red is equated with the sun, inspiration and happiness,” he says.

During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, apothecaries, who dispensed medicine also mixed and sold paint, Betz says. The apothecaries told artists the pigment – known as dragon’s blood – was mixed with solidified blood left behind after a battle between elephants and dragons. This added to the fantastical origins of red.

Actually, the red pigment was created from a tree native to the Canary Islands and Morocco.

Other historic examples, he says, include the Yoruba people in Africa, who associated bright colors like red with battle and blood.

Dr. Tammy Evans, associate professor for graphic design, points to Leatrice Eiseman’s “Pantone Guide to Communicating in Color,” which is used in the classroom and in graphic design studios.

“According to Eiseman, the pituitary gland is activated when red is observed, releasing the hormone epinephrine,” Evans explains. “This can cause physiological effects such as increases in pulse rate, heartbeat and blood pressure resulting in red being associated with excitement and high energy. Other associations with bright red are dynamic, sexy, hot, provocative, dramatic, aggressive and powerful.”

She says designers use red to draw attention and evoke a response.

The Psychology of Red

Dr. Amber DeBono, associate professor for psychological sciences, points to a 2017 study that found that people felt more attractive when they wore red than when they wore other colors.

Other studies have found that red can improve creativity and even helps people eat healthier, DeBono says. She also thinks of Pavlov’s conditioning study.

“As psychologists, we would not be surprised if alumni saw the color red and immediately thought of their time at WSSU,” she says. “That’s because students associate red with WSSU as it is one of our primary colors. In psychology, we call this association between red and WSSU, classical conditioning.”

So, as you head to Bowman Gray Stadium decked out in Ram red, know that there’s science behind those emotions you feel.

Homecoming 2018 is Oct. 14-21. For more information, please visit www.wssu.edu/homecoming.

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