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Drunk tank pink : and other unexpected forces that shape how we think, feel, and behave
Fiction/Biography Profile
Health, Mind and Body
Human behavior
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Publishers Weekly Review
Quick: think of a light bulb. Inspired by the titular pink of the book-a hue believed to reduce physical violence-Alter explores a range of subtle, immaterial factors that can produce very real changes in behavior, mood, and even intelligence. The author's examples are diverse: from direct environmental cues such as colored light or visual symbols like light bulbs (found to aid the solving of insight-based exercises) to more complex phenomena like built environments, labels, and social isolation. Alter, a social psychologist and professor at NYU, not only explains the source of many cognitive quirks, but convincingly argues that comprehending them affords a better understanding of broader behaviors, from cyclical poverty to altruism. Some of these experiments will be familiar to readers-a chapter on naming builds on research explained in Freakonomics, and his discussion of groupthink begins with a recounting of the Kitty Genovese murder. But in Alter's hands, these case studies take on new life-the famous "two line" optical illusion opens into a fascinating explication of the perceptual effects of living in "geometric interiors." Alter fluently moves between psychology, medicine, and cultural history, offering surprises to readers at many levels of expertise. Agent: Katinka Matson, Brockman, Inc. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Most people perceive themselves as agents in control of their environments and behaving in ways consistent with their thoughts. Alter (marketing, Stern School of Business, New York Univ.), using empirically based research findings, challenges these notions, and illustrates the environmental affordances that shape individuals' thoughts and behaviors. Human perceptions and decisions are based partially on hidden contextual cues that influence not only immediate thoughts and actions but also long-term life outcomes. The book's first section, "The World within Us," explores the associative power of names, labels, and symbols. The second section, "The World between Us," describes how the social world shapes individuals' outcomes, ranging from the impact on human behavior from the mere presence of others, to the various ways in which cultural habits influence one's perceptions of objects and places. The third section, "The World around Us," examines the impact of the characteristics of the physical world that humans inhabit (e.g., colors, locations, and weather) on individuals' thoughts and actions. Alter does an impressive job in translating social psychological research into an accessible, engaging, and exciting read. The book is a perfect fit for both undergraduate students and general audiences. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers and undergraduate students. I. I. Katzarska-Miller Transylvania University
Booklist Review
It's commonly known that a lot of police departments and detention centers use a certain shade of pink in their cells because the color is believed to have a calming effect. But the color pink isn't the only thing that affects how we behave; there are dozens of factors that influence our thoughts and beliefs. Consider the compass, for example: the earth's surface is horizontal, and there's no need for north to be above south, but the association of north with up and south with down has some very interesting repercussions (such as people's tendency to prefer to travel south rather than north to go to a store, because north is uphill). Or consider this: people with names that begin with the letter K were responsible for 10 percent of donations for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, but for only 4 percent of donations to all disasters before Katrina. An intelligent, often surprising exploration of the way cues of all varieties (sounds, colors, images, symbols, and more) shape the people we are, for better or worse.--Pitt, David Copyright 2010 Booklist
Kirkus Review
A brisk survey of how human emotions, thoughts and behaviors are shaped by such seemingly small factors as colors as well as such major ones as culture and weather. Alter (Marketing/New York Univ. Stern School of Business) divides the factors into three categories: those that arise from within us; those that emerge from our connections with our social world; and those from the environment--the world around us. After launching with the now decades-old discovery that the color pink can reduce aggression and anxiety, the author looks at these three categories, starting with the effects that names, labels and symbols have on our perception of people, companies and organizations. Alter's findings are intriguing: Children randomly labeled as "academic bloomers" did indeed bloom as teachers' expectations of them changed. During one day of trading, the stocks of companies with easy-to-pronounce ticker names did better than those with unpronounceable names. In the second part, the author considers factors in the social world, describing experiments that reveal differences in behavior when someone is alone or in the presence of other people, finding a basis for racism in a deeply ingrained human fear of difference and looking at cultural differences in the understanding of concepts such as individualism. The third part includes surprising data on the effects of colors, artificial lighting, sunlight, outdoor settings, noise and weather conditions. Alter peppers his text with illustrative anecdotes, incidents, studies and characters, making the book highly readable and informative. The author occasionally challenges folk wisdom--contrary to the popular notion that in spring, a young man's fancy turns to love, Alter cites research showing that testosterone levels rise in the cold winter months--and he elucidates the reasons behind other taken-for-granted beliefs. While the eye-catching title may suggest a hot new shade of lipstick, the contents are solid, down-to-earth insights into why we think, feel and act the way we do.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
An illuminating look at the way the thoughts we have and the decisions we make are influenced by forces that aren't always in our control

Why are people named Kim, Kelly, and Ken more likely to donate to Hurricane Katrina victims than to Hurricane Rita victims? Are you really more likely to solve puzzles if you watch a light bulb illuminate? How did installing blue lights along a Japanese railway line halt rising crime and suicide rates? Can decorating your walls with the right artwork make you more honest? The human brain is fantastically complex, having engineered space travel and liberated nuclear energy, so it's no wonder that we resist the idea that we're deeply influenced by our surroundings. As profound as they are, these effects are almost impossible to detect both as they're occurring and in hindsight. Drunk Tank Pink is the first detailed exploration of how our environment shapes what we think, how we feel, and the ways we behave.

The world is populated with words and images that prompt unexpected, unconscious decisions. We are so deeply attracted to our own initials that we give more willingly to the victims of hurricanes that match our initials: Kims and Kens donate more generously to Hurricane Katrina victims, whereas Rons and Rachels give more openly to Hurricane Rita victims. Meanwhile, an illuminated light bulb inspires creative thinking because it symbolizes insight.

Social interactions have similar effects, as professional cyclists pedal faster when people are watching. Teachers who took tea from the break room at Newcastle University contributed 300 percent more to a cash box when a picture of two eyes hung on the wall. We're evolutionarily sensitive to human surveillance, so we behave more virtuously even if we're only watched by a photograph. The physical environment, from locations to colors, also guides our hand in unseen ways. Dimly lit interiors metaphorically imply no one's watching and encourage dishonesty and theft, while blue lights discourage violent activity because they're associated with the police. Olympic taekwondo and judo athletes are more likely to win when they wear red rather than blue, because red makes them behave aggressively and referees see them as more dominant. Drunk Tank Pink is full of revelatory facts, riveting anecdotes, and cutting-edge experiments that collectively explain how the most unexpected factors lead us to think, feel, and behave the way we do.


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