science | May 07, 2013

Stocks & Sexual Attraction: Adam Alter & Malcolm Gladwell On Environmental Cues

"I think the effects of nature on behavior, our cognition, how we feel and think and react to all sorts of stresses, I think those effects are phenomenal, profound, and very powerful," science speaker Adam Alter told Malcolm Gladwell recently. The two authors, gathered to celebrate Alter's New York Times bestseller Drunk Tank Pink, spoke in front of a capacity crowd in New York City. (Check out the video above!) Gladwell , the night’s host, said that one of the “great things” about the book was the scope of its research. Indeed, Alter's writing investigates the myriad ways that environmental cues, even small ones, affect our mood and behavior.

While he jokes that it's hard to pick favorites from all the cues he has studied, some of the effects he finds the most interesting are those which are name-related. He discovered, for example, that simple names tend to be associated with positive results. "We've found that people rise up the legal hierarchy in a law firm more quickly when you can pronounce their names more easily," he says. This effect is also true in the stock market, he tells Gladwell. The more pronounceable stocks "tend to do better in the first week of trading," he notes. As for the physiological cues, the color red seems to have a correlation with sexual interest. When we see a red shirt, or a flushed red face, Alter says we associate that with piqued interest. This then causes us to become more attracted to the person exhibiting these cues.

Because Alter has covered such a diverse selection of effects and cues in his book, the applications of his research are extremely far-reaching and customizable. He explains what impacts the way investment decisions are influenced by environmental cues, how social interactions between people are shaped, how judges prosecute, the way consumers spend—and everything in between. In his talks, Alter shows us how we can take these findings and apply them to our lives. Leaders, policymakers, and organizations can draw from his insightful findings to create more cognitively healthy environments.