arts and pop culture | May 20, 2013

Think Pink: Adam Alter Talks Psychology of Design on CBS

What would prompt someone to paint their walls an obnoxious and unpopular bubble-gum pink? As science speaker Adam Alter explains in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, a certain shade of vibrant pink (commonly referred to as Drunk Tank Pink) tends to have a calming effect on the people exposed to it. This was discovered by psychologists back in the 1970s. That's why, despite the fact that no one really liked the color, it was all the rage in jail cells and school hallways for a time. "Even to this day, the University of Iowa's Kinnick Stadium still has the visiting locker room painted in bright pink, with porcelain bright pink urinals and lockers," Alter said in the interview. "The thought was that at half-time or before the game, when the visitors arrived, they would be calmed and weakened by the color."

The impact that this color has on people is what inspired Alter to write his new book, Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape Our Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors. Alter, an Assistant Professor of Marketing and Psychology at NYU was so intrigued by the relationship between wall color and people's temperament that he dug deeper to explore why exactly that shade of pink had the reaction it did. "Some of the researchers believe that it's biological in origin—that there's something about the way this color interacts with our eyes and with our brains and with our physiology to weaken us," he explains. "I think another alternative is that it's just based on the association. Perhaps if you're a strong, healthy male, it makes you think of, perhaps, femininity." (In case you were curious, CBS reports that the University of Iowa's home-game record was 18 wins, 32 losses, 1 tie for the 9 years before the walls were painted Drunk Tank Pink. In the 35 years since the redesign, that record has increased to a whopping 142 wins, 65 losses).

Wall color wasn't the only environmental cue that Alter determined to have some kind of profound effect on our consciousness. In his books and his eye-opening talks, he explains how everything from the name of a stock on the market to the color of your shirt can alter the way you, and others around you, act in certain situations. And, what's more, most of us are completely oblivious to the way these small cues all around us are influencing our lives. Drawing from his extensive research, Alter shows us how to become cognizant of the ways our environment impacts our behavior. And, in doing so, we can then design more productive and healthier spaces for us to live, work, and play.