By: Â Steve Martin, CMCT
In 1979, noted psychiatrist Dr. Alexander Schauss conducted a series of studies designed to measure the mental and physical strength of one hundred and fifty young men. Arriving at the laboratory, each man was invited into a small room where one of two cardboard signs was held up in front of them. After looking directly at the card for one minute they were invited to take part in a series of physical strength tests. Sometimes they were asked to raise their arms directly in front of their bodies while downward pressure was applied. On other occasions, a dynamometer test was used to give a more accurate measurement. Regardless of the test employed, it quickly became apparent that the cardboard signs each man was asked to gaze at first had a remarkable influence over their subsequent physical performance. There were no words on these cardboard signs. Nor were there images on them either. They differed only in color.
One was blue, the other pink.
Itâs easy to dismiss the results of Schaussâ experiments as fluke. And given the weakening effect the pink card had on the menâs physical strength itâs even easier to label them a crude demonstration of a widely held stereotype. But to do so would be a mistake. In the thirty or so years since these experiments were conducted, behavioral scientists have developed increasingly sophisticated ways of studying how our environment shapes decisions and behaviors. Their results leave little room for doubt. While weâd like to think that our decisions are always the result of effortful cognition, the reality is somewhat different. Much of our behavior is driven by unconscious cues present in our environment. One of these cues is color, influencing a wide array of decisions and behaviors from how competitive or creative we are, to who we find attractive on dating sites and even if weâll say âYesâ to the offer of a second helping at next weekendâs dinner party.