A brisk survey of how human emotions, thoughts and behaviors are shaped by such seemingly small factors as colors as well as such major ones as culture and weather.
Alter (Marketing/New York Univ. Stern School of Business) divides the factors into three categories: those that arise from within us; those that emerge from our connections with our social world; and those from the environment—the world around us. After launching with the now decades-old discovery that the color pink can reduce aggression and anxiety, the author looks at these three categories, starting with the effects that names, labels and symbols have on our perception of people, companies and organizations. Alter’s findings are intriguing: Children randomly labeled as “academic bloomers” did indeed bloom as teachers’ expectations of them changed. During one day of trading, the stocks of companies with easy-to-pronounce ticker names did better than those with unpronounceable names. In the second part, the author considers factors in the social world, describing experiments that reveal differences in behavior when someone is alone or in the presence of other people, finding a basis for racism in a deeply ingrained human fear of difference and looking at cultural differences in the understanding of concepts such as individualism. The third part includes surprising data on the effects of colors, artificial lighting, sunlight, outdoor settings, noise and weather conditions. Alter peppers his text with illustrative anecdotes, incidents, studies and characters, making the book highly readable and informative. The author occasionally challenges folk wisdom—contrary to the popular notion that in spring, a young man’s fancy turns to love, Alter cites research showing that testosterone levels rise in the cold winter months—and he elucidates the reasons behind other taken-for-granted beliefs.
While the eye-catching title may suggest a hot new shade of lipstick, the contents are solid, down-to-earth insights into why we think, feel and act the way we do.