How much of ourselves do we really control?

“So much of control is not authoritative action but mindful waiting.”               ~Cameron Conaway, Caged: Memoirs of a Cage-Fighting Poet

In his book Drunk Tank Pink, Adam Alter describes a classic study which created quite a stir amongst sports coaches and prison warders, as well as psychologists and parents. The study by Schauss in 1979 suggested that simple exposure to one of two colours made a significant difference to people’s display of strength.  A large group of men were tested, one by one, on a simple strength test.  They were asked to raise their arms in front of their body while a moderate downward and opposite pressure was applied by the researcher to their arms. Nothing remarkable in this so far.  However, when the men were asked to stare at a large piece of cardboard which was coloured pink, their strength was dramatically weaker than when they were asked to stare at a piece of blue cardboard. Blue appeared to leave the subject’s strength intact, while pink depleted their strength.

source: http://www.mobypicture.com/user/PeterM_KOMO/view/10334383

source: http://www.mobypicture.com/user/ PeterM_KOMO/view/10334383

This curious finding quickly found practical application across a number of situations, one of which was the use of pink holding cells in correctional facilities. Angry inmates were reported as being calmed almost immediately by being placed in pink cells. The phenomenon went on to have wider application, and was even used in the world of sport, with boxers wearing pink shorts to ‘weaken’ their opponents, and American football teams painting their opponents’ locker rooms pink in order to reduce the visiting teams’ combativeness just prior to the start of the game.

Psychologists are now aware of many such phenomena which similarly influence our behaviour and our subconscious thoughts. They refer to these forces as cues. 

Within Drunk Tank Pink, the author goes on to chronicle a number of fascinating examples: Continue reading