My mother loved pink. Despite my protests, she decorated my bedroom in pink—with a pink eyelet bedspread, too fragile to lie down on to read a book, a pink electric blanket, and a pink shade on the lamp over the bed. There were pink rosebuds painted on the white headboard and chest of drawers. Pink satin ties held back white organdy curtains, and pink rosebud chintz covered the antique rocker in the corner, occupied by my mother’s life-sized childhood doll, also dressed in pink.
I felt suffocated by all that pink, and when I moved into the college dorms, I bought myself a bright red bedspread and red towels.
For years, researchers have investigated the powerful effects color can have on us. In 1979, psychologist Alexander Schauss published research in which 153 healthy young men were shown two 2-by-3 foot pieces of cardboard, one a deep blue, the other a pink resembling the shade of Pepto Bismol. The men were asked to stare at one piece of cardboard, then they underwent simple muscle testing. The process was repeated with the other piece of cardboard. All but two of the men tested significantly weaker when they had stared at the pink cardboard (Schauss, 1979, 1985; Alter, 2012). In a second experiment, using a dynamometer, Schauss showed 38 men the same colors of cardboard. All of them tested significantly weaker after staring at the pink cardboard (Schauss, 1979, 1985).
This same color pink was later used in a U.S. Navy detention center in Seattle by Chief Warrant Officer Gene Baker and Captain Ron Miller, who saw angry prisoners become calm after only 15 minutes in a pink detention cell. This color, which became known as Baker-Miller pink, was used with similar effects in a youth detention center in San Bernardino, California, and with psychiatric patients in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and the Los Angeles Veterans Administration Medical Center. County jails began using pink cells to pacify aggressive prisoners, observing how violent felons and angry drunks became calm after being exposed to the color pink (Schauss, 1979, 1985; Alter, 2012). Since then, there have been several experiments with mixed results.
Does this make you wonder whether the traditional practice of dressing little girls in pink diminishes their strength as well?
What do you think? And what effect does color have on you?
Alter,A. (2012). Drunk Tank Pink: And other unexpected forces that shape how we think, feel, and behave. New York, NY: Penguin Press.
Schauss, A. G. (1979). Tranquilizing effect of color reduces aggressive behavior and potential violence.Orthomolecular Psychiatry, 8, 218-221.
Schauss, A. G.(1985). The physiological effect of colour on the suppression of human aggression: Research on Baker-Miller Pink. International Journal of Biosocial Research, 2, 55-64.