Drunk Tank Pink by Adam Alter

8 Jun

9781594204548_p0_v1_s260x420Bibliographic Information

Drunk Tank Pink by Adam Alter, Penguin Group, New York, 2013, ISBN: 978-1-59420-454-8

Plot Summary

Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave derives its title from a classic study by Professor Alexander Schauss that showed how men were made dramatically weaker after being exposed to the color pink.  Schauss’s paper was so influential, that it prompted a correctional center in Seattle, Washington to paint its holding cell bright pink.  For the seven-month trial period, officers reported not a single violent incident among the inmates.

Alter’s book summarizes a wealth of social science studies like this that show how we may not be in control of our lives as we think. The book is divided into three parts:

1)    The World Within Us, in which Alter examines the influence of names, labels, and symbols on our behavior;

2)    The World Between Us, where he describes the role other people have in shaping our character;

3)    The World Around Us, where he explores how our environment, from its geography to its weather, influences our choices.

Drunk Tank Pink provides ample evidence that shows how important our environment is in shaping our character.  As Alter writes towards the end of the book, “These studies tell us something profound and perhaps a little disturbing about what makes us who we are: there isn’t a single version of “you.”…It’s comforting to believe that there’s an essential version of each of us, that good people are good, bad people are bad, and that those tendencies reside within us rather than in the sights, sounds, and symbols that populate the landscapes that surround us from moment to moment.  But social psychology calls that belief into question.” (p. 201).

Critical Evaluation

Like Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, Alter compiles a wealth of research and anecdotal evidence to show how our thoughts, feelings and behavior are dictated by things we aren’t even consciously aware of.  Many of these studies are fascinating, especially the ones showing how our motivation to do good is influenced by the number of people around us. Unlike Gladwell, who profiles his subjects and studies in greater detail, Alter relies more on summary than storytelling to convey his information. As a result, I felt a little barraged with studies at times.  Towards the end, some of the research seemed to reach pretty obvious conclusions, like the one that found that people become more irritable when it’s really hot outside.  Other than this though, this is an excellent resource for anyone interested in social science research and how the environment influences human behavior.

Information about the author

From the author’s page on Amazon.com, “Adam Alter is an assistant professor in the marketing department at the Stern School of Business, New York University, with an affiliated appointment in the NYU psychology department. A native of Australia, Alter earned his Ph.D. in social psychology at Princeton University in 2004, focusing on how people reach the judgments and make the decisions that shape their lives. He has lectured at numerous institutions including Harvard, Yale, MIT, Stanford, Cornell, and the University of Chicago. Alter is a guest blogger on the Psychology Today website.”


Non-Fiction. Social Science.  Psychology.

Reading Level / Interest Age

Grade 11 and up



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