IMAGINE you are an experienced martial arts referee. You are asked to score a number of taekwondo bouts, shown to you on video. In each bout, one combatant is wearing red, the other blue. Would clothing colour make any difference to your impartial, expert judgement? Of course it wouldn't.
Yet research shows it almost certainly would. Last year, sports psychologists at the University of Münster, Germany, showed video clips of bouts to 42 experienced referees. They then played the same clips again, digitally manipulated so that the clothing colours were swapped round. The result? In close matches, the scoring swapped round too, with red competitors awarded an average of 13 per cent more points than when they were dressed in blue. "If one competitor is strong and the other weak, it won't change the outcome of the fight," says Norbert Hagemann, who led the study. "But the closer the levels, the easier it is for the colour to tip the scale."
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