Check it out: Shaped by our surroundings



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"Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave"

By Adam Alter; Penguin, 261 pages

“Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave”

By Adam Alter; Penguin, 261 pages

The idea that one’s environment plays a strong role in shaping an individual is not a new one. I can remember learning about the whole “nature versus nurture” concept in school, and to be honest with you, I didn’t find this argument very compelling. Probably my young age at the time, and a less than exciting teaching style by Teacher X are to blame for my casual dismissal of an interesting topic. Looking back, I now realize that some educational topics are best appreciated at a wiser, more mature stage of life.

Thank goodness, then, for fabulous nonfiction titles such as “Drunk Tank Pink.” Adam Alter’s engaging study about how environmental forces can affect a person’s emotional, intellectual, and behavioral development is fascinating stuff. And the best part of all? Instead of having to grind through a dull textbook, or an even duller professorial lecture, you can go to the library, check out Alter’s book, sit in the comfort of your home, and become oh-so-much-smarter.

The title refers to a discovery made in the 1970s that a particular shade of pink had the ability to calm down agitated criminal offenders. When prisons began to use pink paint to help subdue riled-up prisoners, the shade became known as “Drunk Tank Pink.” It didn’t take long for the “soothing” color to spread to the walls of medicine (to help comfort nervous patients), sports (in the hope that pink locker rooms for visiting teams would cause adrenaline-pumped opponents to “float like a butterfly” rather than “sting like a bee”), and even some charitable organizations in the belief that such a happy, comforting color encouraged more donations. Amazing what power one color can wield on an unsuspecting population!

What other possible environmental influences does Alter delve into? How about culture, locations, and, most intriguing to me, names. As Shakespeare so famously queried, what’s in a name? Well, just because a person’s last name happens to be Singer doesn’t mean that person is destined for a life in music. But, it’s hard to ignore the link between surname and occupation when reading chapter one in Adam Alter’s book. Identified as “nominative determinism” in a 1994 issue of the journal New Scientist, the idea that a person could experience a “name-driven outcome” had been proposed some time earlier by no other than Carl Jung, the well-known psychiatrist. In the 1994 article, several real-life examples were presented: Anna Smashnova, a professional tennis player; Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world at the time; and, (my favorite), Drs. A.J. Splatt and D. Weedon, experts in urology.

Whether or not you believe in the assertion that nature has as much influence on our development as the very human act of nurturing, this week’s title is sure to stimulate the mind. I have to wonder about something, though. If I had decided to keep my maiden name, Campbell, might I have become, not a sous chef, but a “soup chef”? Hmm, I think I’ll stick with librarianship for now.

Jan Johnston is the Collection Development Coordinator for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. Email her at