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Background: I read that black is usually favored by people who are dominant. I read that the black color projects dominance, and also hides the person's feelings. Police, for example, adopt black as a color. However, I also read that black can demonstrate submissiveness. Priests wear black clothes to show submissiveness to God. In addition, sales people and business people who work with clients often wear black suits. Are they trying to appear dominant or submissive?

  • What is the psychology of wearing black?
  • Does wearing black communicate dominance or submissiveness?
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    $\begingroup$ What makes you suspect that this question will have a consistent answer across cultures? Or are you asking only within a certain culture, like the modern west? If so, can you clarify. Also, if you had sources for the things you've read then adding those to your question would greatly improve it. $\endgroup$ – Artem Kaznatcheev Apr 27 '15 at 18:06
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This question is studied within the fields of color psychology and enclothed cognition (e.g., Adam and Galinsky, 2012), currently a hot/controversial topic in cognitive science. Without addressing the substantial questions surrounding the premises of these interpretations for situated/embodied cognition in my answer, it seems that wearing black is associated with aggressive behavior and the tendency to be perceived as more aggressive (Frank and Gilovich, 1988).

An analysis of the penalty records of the [U.S.] National Football League and the [U.S.] National Hockey League indicate that teams with black uniforms in both sports ranked near the top of their leagues in penalties throughout the period of study. On those occasions when a team switched from nonblack to black uniforms, the switch was accompanied by an immediate increase in penalties. The results of two laboratory experiments indicate that this finding can be attributed to both social perception and self-perception processes—that is, to the biased judgments of referees and to the increased aggressiveness of the players themselves.

As per Artem's comment to the question, we need to be skeptical of inferring a causal relation when so many confounding factors, such as culture, could potentially be in play. A 2014 review of color psychology in the Annual Review of Psychology journal concluded that while there is mounting evidence for the influence of color on behavior, it is ultimately too early to theorize strongly on specific color psychological questions such as this (Elliot and Maier, 2014).

The review clearly shows that color can carry important meaning and can have an important impact on people's affect, cognition, and behavior. The literature remains at a nascent stage of development, however, and we note that considerable work on boundary conditions, moderators, and real-world generalizability is needed before strong conceptual statements and recommendations for application are warranted.

References

  • Adam, H., & Galinsky, A. D. (2012). Enclothed cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(4), 918-925.
  • Elliot, A. J., & Maier, M. A. (2014). Color psychology: Effects of perceiving color on psychological functioning in humans. Annual review of psychology, 65, 95-120.
  • Frank, M. G., & Gilovich, T. (1988). The Dark Side of Self-and Social Perception: Black Uniforms and Aggression in Professional Sports. Journal of Pereonality and Social Psychology, 54(1), 74-85.
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