Blog Archive

Wednesday, November 19, 2014 - Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave; by Adam Alter

Today's selection -- from Drunk Tank Pink by Adam Alter. Gloomy days help us think more deeply and clearly:

The same mental haze that sets in after weeks on a summer vacation muddles the mind from one sunny day to the next. This might seem outrageous claim -- that sunnier days bring on a mental stupor -- but it's a claim that's backed with real-world evidence. In one study, social psychologists sprang a surprise memory test on shoppers who were leaving a small magazine shop in Sydney, Australia. Before the shoppers entered the store, the researchers placed ten small ornamental objects on the store counter -- four plastic animals, a toy cannon, a piggy bank, and Matchbox cars.

"After leaving the store, the shoppers were asked to remember as many of the ten items as possible, and to also pick the ten items from a list of twenty that included the ten correct items and ten new items. The researchers conducted the experiment on fourteen different days across a two-month period, between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.; some of those days were clear and sunny, whereas others were cloudy and rainy. The shoppers recalled three times as many items on the rainy days as on the sunny days, and they were approximately four times as accurate when identifying the ten objects from the longer list of twenty items.

The researchers explained that gloomy weather hampers our mood, in turn makes us think more deeply and clearly. Humans are biologically predisposed to avoid sadness, and they respond to sad moods by seeking opportunities for mood repair and vigilantly protecting themselves against whatever might be making them sad. In contrast, happiness sends a signal that everything is fine, the environment doesn't pose an imminent threat, and there's no need to think deeply and carefully.

"These contrasting mental approaches explain why the shoppers remembered the ten trinkets more accurately on rainy days; the rainy days induced a generally negative mood state, which the shoppers subconsciously tried to overcome by grazing the environment for information that might have replaced their dampened sad moods with happier alternatives. If you think about it, this approach makes sense. Mood states are all-purpose measurement devices that tell us whether something in the environment needs to be fixed. When we're facing major emotional hurdles -- extreme grief, an injury that brings severe pain, blinding anger -- our emotional warning light glows red and compels us to act. For most of the time we sail smoothly through calm waters, allowing much of the world -- including small trinkets on a store countertop -- to pass by unnoticed."

Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave
Author: Adam Alter
Publisher: Penguin Books
Copyright Adam Alter 2013
Pages 219 - 220

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Delanceyplace is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context.  There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came. 

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