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The strange scientific logic of gang colors
Why would a career criminal advertise his gang affiliation to police?
Members of the Crips and Bloods gangs rally in New York: Gang members tend to wear bright colors that draw attention, but also establish group solidarity.
Members of the Crips and Bloods gangs rally in New York: Gang members tend to wear bright colors that draw attention, but also establish group solidarity.
REUTERS/Eric Thayer
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criminal, it seems, would benefit from being as stealthy and inconspicuous as possible in order to avoid getting arrested. So why do gang members wear bright colors that make them stand out to law enforcement officers? That question has piqued the interest of an Oxford University professor, who believes there may be an advantage to gang members who advertise their criminal intentions — and it's based on evolutionary biology. Here, a brief guide to this phenomenon:

What does biology have to do with gang colors?
Consider the peacock: The male of the species displays an enormous, brightly colored tail in order to attract females. But a heavy, highly visible tail would also attract predators and make the bird an easily caught meal. A female nonetheless prefers to mate with a male who has a bigger, brighter tail because, in order to have survived, "he must be strong and fast," says Oxford University professor Andrew Mell. "A male peacock with the handicap of a big bright tail has been tested and has passed."

So the handicap of bright colors helps gang members?
Yes, in the long run. Wearing brightly colored clothes that identify these gang members to police helps to weed out less-competent members from the gang, as they are more likely to get arrested. Gang colors create group solidarity, but also signal to others that anyone who's seen wearing the colors must be stronger, faster, and smarter than the police — a big plus in the cutthroat world of gangs.

Does having a handicap help outside gangland?
Yes, according to many social scientists. The handicap principle, as it's commonly known, "proves you're very good at something via a handicap that you are clearly able to overcome," says Eric Barker at Business Insider. "Can you win a race while holding a 50-pound dumbbell? Than you must be fast." This principle is often cited as a reason for behaviors that make no sense at first glance, but might give a person or animal an edge in competitive arenas like mating. Wearing bright jewelry, for example, could attract thieves — or a potential spouse.

Sources: Business Insider, Oxford University, Wall Street Journal

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