science | April 09, 2013

What's In A Label? Adam Alter On How Names & Colors Affect Our Behavior

Drunk Tank Pink. Not only is that the name of the new book from science speaker Adam Alter, but it also embodies the idea that unconscious cues from our environment directly impact our behavior. As Alter says in a new interview on NPR's Science Friday, this Pepto-Bismol, bubblegum-like shade of pink was proven to have a dramatically noticeable calming effect on prisoners held in cells painted that color. In the interview, he unpacks this theory in more depth—sharing several eye-opening cues that affect the way we think, act, and feel.

We have all heard the term 'dress to impress', but, few of us know that those wearing red shirts tend to give the best impressions. According to Alter, people who wore red shirts in their online dating profile pictures tended to receive much more attention than those who did not. Here's some more food for thought—hitchhikers tend to be picked up more often if they are wearing red shirts, also (something to keep in mind in case you ever finding yourself thumbing for a ride on the interstate).

Alter's findings have a plethora of applications ranging from every day living, to treating sick patients in a hospital, and even to the stock market. For example, stocks that had names or ticket codes that were easier to pronounce (or, as Alter says, were more fluent) tended to do much better on the market. Another of Alter's applications translates to the classroom and describes how labeling children can directly impact their performance. Children who were labeled as academic bloomers, for example, outperformed other children not labeled as such by an average of 10-15 IQ points. Alter, the Assistant Professor of Marketing and Psychology at NYU’s Stern School of Business and Psychology Department, custom tailors his findings to each audience. He shows us how we can understand—and manipulate—these cues to create healthier and more productive environments.

Up Next

science | April 08, 2013