Drunk Tank Pink by Adam Alter


Review: Drunk Tank Pink by Adam Alter
Book Review: Drunk Tank Pink, and Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave by Adam Alter

In Drunk Tank Pink, Author Adam Alter uses his own research and that of others to show how we are all influenced by factors we aren’t aware of or don’t acknowledge as important. As such, it’s a fun combination of Freakonomics and part Predictably Irrational.

The book’s odd title comes from a shade of pink that was found to curb aggressive behavior, sap energy, and even reduce muscular strength. Holding cells were painted that color, as were athletic locker rooms (but only those used by the visiting team).

Chess Queens

I’ve written often about the effect of attractive women, and even pictures of them, but Alter introduced me to a study that meticulously examined how chess champions played matches, and in particular how males played gain at females rated as attractive. The behavior of the males did change when compared to their play against other men.

When playing a female opponent, the men adopted riskier strategies and lost more matches. The same behavior was evident in the less cerebral sport of skateboarding. In one study, male skateboarders could attempt either easy tricks or more difficult ones. The latter were more dangerous, albeit more satisfying to complete. When observed by an attractive, young female experimenter, the skateboarders attempted more difficult tricks.

This behavior is explained by evolutionary psychology. In prehistoric days, men competed for women by demonstrating strength and prowess, much as lions and elephants still do. Today, combat is rare but men are still driven to show off to impress women.

Sun Makes You Stupid

Do you find bright sunshine energizing? In fact, it seems to introduce a mental stupor. Australian researchers conducted a memory test on unsuspecting shoppers by placing a group of items on a store counter and testing what shoppers recalled on exiting the shop. Subjects recalled three times as many items on gray, cloudy days as on sunny days!

Seeing Red

One chapter is devoted to surprising color effects. Red is a potent color in many ways, but one of the more unusual ones is that using a red pen makes you more strict. Essay reviewers found an average of 24 errors when using a red pen vs. just 19 with a blue pen. Similarly, another set of reviewers gave essays an average grade of 80 when using a blue pen, but only 76 with red ink.

And the red effect works on students,too. Alter describes a variety of experiments in which students primed with red performed more poorly on tests.

Even though the book is devoted entirely to research findings, it’s never overly scientific. Alter writes in an entertaining style totally accessible to the lay reader. Indeed, if there’s a shortcoming in the book it’s that sometimes experimental details are glossed over to the point where a skeptical reader might want a bit more information. But, for the reader who wants to dig deeper, there’s a good set of endnotes to track down the original research. If you enjoy learning about the quirky side of human behavior, Drunk Tank Pink is a must-read.

Amazon Link: Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces that Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave

Kindle Version: Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces that Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave

  1. Walter W. says

    “Similarly, another set of reviewers gave essays an average grade of 80 when using a BLUE pen, but only 76 with BLUE ink.”

    BLUE and BLUE? Shouldn’t it be BLUE and RED?

  2. Roger Dooley says

    Good catch, Walter! You must have your red reading glasses on!


  3. Farrell Conejos says

    Hey Roger,

    Nice review about Drunk Tank Pink. The little details you posted as a teaser of what the book is all about is also very interesting. the scientific approaches that the book has with regards to performance and emotions really gave me a thrill. I will definitely try to find a copy of the book. Thanks for sharing this.

  4. Lee Jones says

    Great post…I’m definitely going to try to pick up a copy of this book. You figure companies like McDonalds have been using the same techniques for years to influence customers.

  5. John Arrowwood says

    Just a thought on the Sun making people forget:

    Memory works based on association and similarity between the current moment and the moment in time being accessed. We have to recreate that moment in our mind in order to recall it. The more different our current circumstances (or state of mind) are in the present than they were at the moment we are trying to recall, the harder it is to reconstruct the state necessary in order to access the memories.

    I remember a study that showed that we don’t just dream during REM sleep. When awoken at all stages of sleep, participants reported being in the midst of some kind of dream-like experience. The mind never shuts down. Yet we can’t really remember most of the night. And yet, in the midst of a dream, we may recognize that “I’ve dreamed this before.” And when you wake up, all you may remember is the sense of it having been familiar, but can’t remember any of the details. It’s not that we CAN’T remember the dream, it’s that our state of mind is too radically different while we are awake to be able to recreate the state of mind of when the memory was formed.

    The point is, inside a store is much more like a cloudy day than it is like a warm, sunny day. Walking outside into the sun jolts the nervous system, floods it with energy, which would make the current state sufficiently different than the state in effect when the memory was stored, making it harder to access those “inside” memories. So it’s not that the sun robs us of our memories. It doesn’t necessarily create a stupor, per se. It’s just a little like trying to compose a text message on the sidewalk when someone pulls up next to you in a car with the windows rolled down blaring AC/DC so loud it feels like you are in the front row of a concert.

    What was I saying? Turn it down! This music is too loud!

  6. Thomas Scond says

    Roger, thanks for your review. I bought this book on Amazon on Thursday. I will plan to read it this weekend 😉

  7. Daryl says

    I would agree with John above – I doubt it’s the sun that is making you forget, but the conditions associated with the sun. I personally think it may be to do with the fact that you simply have more to do on a sunny day, or that you have fun/exciting activities that may push the “drudgery” of shopping out of your mind.
    Similar to what John said, it may be that shoppers associate sunny days with other activities, while rainy days may be associated more with shopping conditions.

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