A few years ago, a peculiar trend began in prisons in Europe and North America. They began to paint some of the cells pink. It became so common that by 2014, one in five prisons and police stations in Switzerland had at least one holding cell painted bright pink.
The purpose of the decoration was not an aesthetic choice or to make millennial criminals feel more comfortable, but rather to invoke a well-known scientific study from the 1970s.
In that decade, researcher Alexander Schuss persuaded a US military prison to paint some of its cells pink, on the principle—based on my own experiments– that color can positively affect the behavior of prisoners, calming their agitation.
His results suggested he was right: A memo prepared by the Office of Naval Personnel stated that prisoners needed only 15 minutes of exposure to the pink cell to reduce their aggressive behavior and potential violence.
Trials in other detention centers supported his findings, and once they were published, in 1979 and 1981, the tone he used to change the mood of prisoners in his study –473 ml. Red Semi-Gloss Exterior Paint and 1.5 oz., interior pure white latex paint spread to prisons around the world.
Shade of Pink – Officially designated P-618, but Schauss . nominated by pink baker-miller Named after the directors of the Naval Detention Center where they first tested it – it is known by the various names where it has been used, from “drunk tank pink” to “fresh pink”.
But there is only one problem:Schauss’s results were never successfully replicated.
“There was a study in 2015, done under properly controlled conditions, that found no evidence that pink reduces aggression,” says Domisel Jonauschkeit, a color researcher at the University of Vienna in Austria.
Another study conducted in Switzerland’s Justizvollzugsanstalt Poschwies, involving 59 prisoners, revealed that there was no difference Between white cells and pink cells in the level of aggression of prisoners.
Although the apparent calming effect of “Drunken Tank” pink is questionable, the speed with which it was adopted speaks volumes. Something deep in the human psyche about the power of color.
And maybe it’s not too far off the mark: There’s evidence that color can affect our behavior in surprising ways without us realizing it.
For example, certain colors may compel us to act: Look at research into how many times a hitchhiker whose car had broken down was picked up by passing cars.
When the broken traveler – actually played by one of the members of the research team – a red shirt, It was picked up more often than other colors.
it has been shown that red produces a more immediate emotional response, Although it is perhaps better known as the Berlin-K theory, it derives from the work of a couple of American academics in the 1960s.
In short, he found that red was the third color word to ever evolve In about 100 languages he studied after black and white. The longer the term is used for a colour, the greater the number of associations, meanings and nuances it can acquire. In this way the color automatically comes into effect.
However, most research on how color can affect human behavior They are contradictory. Some studies show that it can affect everything from mood and emotions to your heartbeat rate and even physical strength.
For example, bright red colors have been shown to increase arousal and may even prevent drowsiness.
Experiments have also suggested that monotonous tasks, such as proofreading, may be done better in red offices, while creative tasks, such as essay writing, are better done in blue rooms.
But other work has shown that red and blue can be distracting while trying to perform tasks.
These contradictions have led some researchers to warn that claims of therapeutic and psychological benefits of different colors should not be given too much weight, as there is insufficient evidence to support them.
But there are some areas where color has been found to have a clear effect on our brain. For example, it can affect how we perceive our other senses, Like the taste and flavor.
The one thing that seems to be conveying the red color is pretty consistent, is the sweetness. A study of more than 5,300 people around the world found that red-colored drinks were considered the sweetest, regardless of where the participants came from.
Mary Wright, head of global flavoring for ADM Nutrition, a multinational food and beverage manufacturer, recalls testing a special product for the strawberry flavor the company created.
Volunteers struggled to detect changes in sweetness while tasting the product, but when Wright and colleagues They increased the red color instead of increasing the sugar content of the liquid.Participants began to say that it tasted sweeter.
“We’ve found that if you make something brighter, you can make it sweeter,” says Wright. “It’s like a bright red apple: before you bite into it, you expect it to be sweet.”
He says that the fact that the color is brighter can fool the brain so much that it has allowed him to reduce the sugar level in some recipes by 10% to 20%, although the results of these tests are not published in any journal. have not been published. Academics till date.
However, it is important to be cautious when it comes to color and nutrition – there is some evidence that color can change the way we experience food, but This does not necessarily affect our long-term consumption levels.
Charles Spence, a psychologist at the University of Oxford, studies how our senses interact and is the author of a book on the science of food. He says that most of the common effects between colour, taste and mouthfeel come from connected social associations Which we create in our daily life.
Most of that comes from marketing and packaging, but also from the experiences of the food we eat every day.
Interestingly, color can also transmit other information to the senses. Imagine a towel advertisement appearing on this page: Immediately, the softness is evident, almost as if you can feel it through the screen.
But that perceived smoothness may not be due to the high thread count seen on the screen, But for your pastel color, At least according to the work of Atefey Yazdanparast Ardestani, an associate professor at the Clark University School of Management in Worcester, Massachusetts, United States.
“When I close my eyes and think of tenderness, a few colors come to mind; are usually the mildestLight pink, light blue,” he says. “I had the same question: What is the correspondence between our sense of sight and our sense of touch?”
So Ardestani did some tests. They asked volunteers to write down the colors they imagined when they thought of softness and, in fact, reflected their own, leaning toward lighter tones.
Next, they asked the volunteers to look at different colors, three at a time: each had the same saturation, or intensity, but varied from light to dark. When given adjectives to describe them, the lightest color was chosen in 91.2% of cases The softest
darkness is more
But while pale tone may suggest softness, intensity of color suggests quantity, according to Karen Schloss, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US and one of the world’s leading color researchers.
She cautions that in data graphs, or maps, the colors chosen – more specifically, their intensity – can manipulate the way that information is interpreted.
“People indicating that dark colors represent a large amountWhat I’ve seen is used very well in most epidemic maps: more cases or fatalities, represented with darker colors,” he says, citing the work of himself and others that we can link that. are practically conditioned to do.
Schloss warns that these types of associations can lead to problems. If the data is presented in excessive amounts of light colors, you may misunderstand what you are seeing.
If a map appears on the screen for a fraction of a second, “it will be deemed that there is more darkness, not more light”, Even if the data isn’t actually like that.
“All of this suggests that color is much more powerful than we think,” concludes Schloss.
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