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<em>Drunk Tank Pink</em>: Adam Alter's Upcoming Book Explores Our Cognitive Bias
Science | March 08, 2013

Drunk Tank Pink: Adam Alter's Upcoming Book Explores Our Cognitive Bias

In his forthcoming book, science speaker Adam Alter explores the way that the cognitive biases we hold affect the way he behave—in ways we may not even realize. Titled Drunk Tank Pink (in reference to a study suggesting pink-colored walls improved performance in school), it explores how our thought-processes effect everything from the way we grade a student's work to how well a patient recovers after surgery. Alter, an Assistant Professor of Marketing and Psychology at NYU’s Stern School of Business, then applies these cognitive responses to a wide array of different industries. If we can understand the way we think, we can then tailor our public policies and corporate strategies to help us more effectively achieve our goals.

Take emergency disaster relief efforts, for example. In a conversation with Lavin, Alter explains that there is a tendency for people to donate more when a storm has been either named after them or contains the first initial of their name. Since storms are named in accordance to an alphabetical list, the most common names that people have (those starting with J and M, according to Alter), don't come up that often. If you were to strategically label storms based on people's cognitive bias toward their own name, he suggests that you may be able to improve the amount of aid the public donates.

Alter's work also extends into the boardroom, the classroom, and the hospital room. For example, he says that learning techniques should not be focused on making everything as simple and straightforward as possible. When your brain has to overcome a disfluency (a mental roadblock like reading a font that is complex in design), Alter tells us that our minds are better able to process and retain the knowledge we learn. Taking that concept into the meeting room, he argues that there are certain times when our brain processes information better while alone and others when it is beneficial to incorporate other coworkers into the mix. If you are simply trying to generate as many ideas as possible, it is probably worthwhile to put your team into a group setting to brainstorm. However, if you want to incorporate diverse, lateral thinking, it may be best to have your team hash things out alone before coming together to share the results (something that introvert speaker Susan Cain also advocates). In his talks, Alter expands on these breakthrough ideas to expose us to the way we think, so we can harness that knowledge to live better and more productive lives.
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