Bibliophile: Drunk Tank Pink

ArabianNights_revise.inddDrunk Tank Pink

by Adam Alter


Introducing his investigation into the subconscious forces that shape how we think, feel and behave, Adam Alter tells of a paper that was published in 1979. It claimed to have scientifically proven that the colour pink had a tranquilising effect.

As a consequence this colour was used in several instances to limit aggression – noticeably in police cells for drunks which were painted pink.

Alter, who is a marketing professor at New York University, has a closer look at the pink phenomenon and the effects of other colours on people. Sometimes the human response is physical and sometimes it is the associations that are created that influence behaviour and judgement. He also gathers experiments that show how modern environments and even the weather effect people’s thoughts and actions.

Jung believed that names “given at birth blaze a trail that out destinies tread for years to come”. Alter finds evidence of how people become prejudiced by associating certain names with socio-economic status or ethnicity. He looks at the prejudice inherent in the language that shapes what we see and the expectations we have of people, or indeed the expectations people have of themselves.

Labels, names and symbols have powerful mental associations that shape our reality. “We are all born into one reality, oblivious to the countless alternate realities that exist in other parts of the world.” This breeds the fear of difference and the resulting discrimination.

Many of his examples are American – only in America could you buy a nasal spray called Liquid Trust to help you foster and enhance human relationships. But he does gather scientific experiments from other countries as well to show how the cultural lens influences thoughts, behaviours and even mental illnesses. Anorexia Nervosa, for example, only occurs in wealthy countries and the genital shrinking epidemic only occurs in West Africa.

Drunk Tank Pink is quite an easy read. Some of its insights into human behaviour are not new but it is interesting to read about many of the things that what influence our moods and our decision-making.

Simple things like requesting a hospital room with a view, paying more for an apartment on a higher floor or painting a room blue rather than red can make huge differences to your life.

Lezly Herbert



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