Book Summary: Drunk Tank Pink by Adam Alter

Quick Summary: According to Drunk Tank Pink, you’re much more susceptible to subtle influences from within and without than you may realize. Hearing a certain name floods your body with negative emotions, a label implies a false memory, knowing you’re being watched makes you more honest, and being in a crowded room makes you less willing to help.

There’s an old saying that a bull will pounce on anything that resembles a red rag. But you should know that the same advice is directed at you. Even though you wouldn’t necessarily pounce on someone wearing a red shirt, your attitude towards him might change depending on his outfit.

The people you interact with, the weather where you live, the color scheme of your house, and the name you’ve been given are just a few examples of the many external factors that can influence your thoughts and actions.

You don’t have to read the whole book if you don’t have time. This summary will provide you with an overview of everything you can learn from this book.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

Lesson 1: Using labels shapes what we see, influences our judgments, and creates false memories

There are blacks, whites, the wealthy, and the impoverished. Our daily lives are full of things and people that we constantly classify. And how do these classifications affect us?

Ultimately, labels affect how we understand the world.

The common names we give things in our own language can influence the way we think about them. In the case of color perception, the vocabulary available to us determines how accurately we can distinguish between different hues.

Subjects were tested on their ability to distinguish between two blue squares of slightly different hues and to identify the third blue square on a computer screen, with the test conducted in both Russian and English.

It turned out that the Russians were able to perform this task significantly better than their Western counterparts because the Russian language uses two different words to describe the same color blue (goluboy for light blue and siniy for dark blue). Russians, with their more sophisticated understanding of color, are better able to distinguish between different shades of blue.

Moreover, designations can influence our evaluations in unintended ways.

In another experiment, participants were asked to determine which of three labeled faces appeared darkest. Although the two faces were identical in hue, those who saw only one of them were more likely to assume that the “black” one was darker than the “white” one.

At last we have proof that language can induce false memories.

In one study, different people watched footage of a car accident. Participants who were told by researchers that the vehicles had collided later falsely associated the presence of shattered glass with the events depicted in the video. Subjects who were told that the cars had collided had a much clearer memory of the events. It is obvious that labels can even influence our memory.

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Lesson 2: Our subconscious reacts to symbols without even realizing it

To better visualize the swastika, close your eyes. Most people in the West react negatively to this relatively plain arrangement of lines.

This shows how effective symbols can be in evoking emotional responses from the audience.

Just think of the many different emotional reactions that banknotes, a symbol of financial wealth, evoke.

In one experiment, participants’ brains were scanned while they watched a video of real people tearing up bills. The subjects reported increased anxiety and stress due to hyperactivity in the brain’s temporoparietal network, which is responsible for processing how things are used. This suggests that people are very unhappy when their money is embezzled.

In another study, the promise of a financial reward improved participants’ ability to solve problems independently. The researchers had their subjects solve thinking puzzles while one group did so with a stack of Monopoly money nearby. Participants were encouraged to contact the researcher any time they’d problems.

In what way?

The money on the table, according to the researcher, served as a subtle reminder of their independence, making them much less likely to ask for help.

The light bulb is another symbol that can trigger strong feelings. As shown in a psychology experiment, students performed better on difficult insight-based problems when researchers lit the room with a light bulb rather than a lampshade or fluorescent tube. This suggests that the light bulb has become so synonymous with insight that it actually induces people to have insights.

How is it that symbols have such an effect on people?

Because recognizing symbols happens so naturally, if not unconsciously.

Every dark room needs some kind of illumination, so it’s safe to assume that the students who participated in the light bulb experiment weren’t thinking about where the light was coming from. Nevertheless, the light bulb was able to influence their thoughts below the level of their consciousness.

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Lesson 3: In the presence of other people, our thoughts and behaviors change

In 1970, a young woman named Genie was rescued by her parents, who had kept her locked up and isolated all her life.

What was her prognosis?

She was unable to communicate or have even the most basic social interactions, and despite therapy, she was never able to catch up with other children her age.

Our actions are affected even by the mere suggestion of another person’s presence.

Researchers in the Department of Psychology conducted an experiment to see if they could get people to give up free coffee and tea. People were more willing to pay a fee if there was a picture of a pair of eyes in the kitchen. This suggests that even the impression of being watched can encourage dishonest behavior.

Further evidence that considering the norms of others causes us to examine our own actions.

Opower took advantage of this by releasing an app that encouraged friendly competition between neighbors to see who could use the least energy overall. People’s electricity consumption dropped when they could see their impact on the community’s overall consumption.

So is being around people always a good thing?

No, absolutely not.

The presence of others can have a detrimental effect on us by weakening our resolve to take charge of our own lives.

The bystander effect describes our human tendency to wait for others to help us before taking action ourselves. The terrible consequences of this phenomenon have been demonstrated in specific cases.

Consider the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens, New York, who became a national icon. At least a dozen apartment dwellers witnessed the half-hour attack by a man with a knife, but none of them called the police.

And why?

Because there were many witnesses, they felt it was the crowd’s responsibility to take action.

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Lesson 4: Behavior is influenced by our basic needs for safety, love, and reproduction

Food, water, air, and reproduction are all necessities for human survival. And when we have accomplished that, we want to feel safe and loved.

Abraham Maslow, a well-known psychologist, claims that these are the driving forces behind all human behavior.

Let us start with reproduction and examine some of these basic needs.

Psychologists wanted to find out how this affects our behavior. So they visited a gentlemen’s club and observed the striptease dancers to see if their tips changed depending on when they ovulated.

Surprisingly, it was found that the dancers were tipped significantly more when they were in their fertile phase, probably because the men were responding to the physical cues of fertile women. This indicates that the men were attracted to the dancers not only because of their sexual attraction.

Can we talk about how safe this is? Once our immediate needs are satisfied, our desire for security manifests itself in a return to the tried and true.

In a psychological experiment, participants were shown pictures of various unfamiliar people and asked to rate their preference for them. Our tendency toward familiarity, which signals safety, might explain why they preferred those they had seen more often.

When we know we are safe, what do we want most?

Of course, we need love, and this need has a significant impact on how we think about other people.

Studying the effects of oxytocin (the “love hormone”) on human behavior makes this abundantly clear.

The hormone oxytocin stimulates mothers’ behavior toward their newborn children. Unexpectedly, studies show that spraying oxytocin up people’s noses increases their trust in others. In games of chance with strangers, participants who received a small dose of oxytocin were much more likely to trust their opponents. Consequently, the desire to feel loved, no matter how artificial, is a powerful motivator that can bring even complete strangers together.

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