Pink is a weird colour with multiple different occurrences in history. Either for liberation movements, gender identity, classism and the prison system. The colour pink was studied in the 1970s to help calm down and reform prisoners. This experiment did not work, but it is interesting to know why.
Before I continue this post, I want you to look at this pink block for 1 minute. Does it make you calm? Does it make you angry? Confused? Nothing at all?
This shade of pink was studied for its effect on moods, behaviours and thought patterns. The experimental research was to see if the colour pink could change the emotional and hormonal changes by various light wavelengths to trigger profound and measurable responses in the endocrine system. The creation of this pink colour was to find a way to lessen aggression in people.
The Study of the Colour Pink
A paper in Orthomolecular Psychiatry described 1979 an experiment with 153 healthy young men, a researcher, two large pieces of coloured cardboard and a well-lit lab room. The paper was written by Professor Alexander Schauss, the director of the American Institute for Biosocial Research in Tacoma, Washington. Half of the men stare at pink-coloured cardboard and the other half stare at deep blue-coloured cardboard. After a full minute, the researcher asks the pink cardboard men to raise their arms in front of their bodies and then apply pressure to their arms back down to their sides. The researchers took some notes and asked the same thing for the deep blue cardboard men. Schauss’ second experiment was with 38 men to squeeze a dynamometer with the painted cardboard experiment. In his studies, the who stared at the pink cardboard appeared weaker but nothing happened to the men. Schauss suggested to corrections officers detain rowdy prisoners in pink cells to control their aggression.
The pink colour was created by two U.S. Naval Correctional Centre in Seattle, Washington, Chief Warrant Officer Gene Baker and Captain Ron Miller who believed in Schauss’s study to try out. On March 1st, 1979, they proceeded with an experiment to have one holding cell a bright shade of pink to see if it had any effect on any of their prisoners. They added one pint of semi-gloss red trim paint to a gallon of pure white latex paint to coat the walls, ceiling and iron bars of the cell. The experiment lasted 156 days at the Washington State Department of Corrections with the temporary success of lowering violent outbursts.
It was bright bubblegum-like pink, close to Pepto-Bismol in shade. Schauss did studies on himself with his research assistant John Ott to test the effect on the cardiovascular system. He labelled his pink tone as P-618 stating “a marked effect on lowering the heart rate, pulse and respiration as compared to other colours.”
He based his study on the pink colour on a Swiss psychiatrist study how colour preferences provide clues about a person’s personality by Max Lüscher. He is the inventor of the Lüscher colour test which was a study of personality traits someone has based on their favourite colour on a chart. Study participants were asked to arrange colour cards of red, blue, yellow, green, violet, brown, grey and black on a table from best to least favourite. They were asked about the extent of their personalities that match the colour chart that Lüscher invented. The results of the test contained personal assessments and special instructions on how psychological stress happens and how to avoid them sometimes with verbal and homeopathic therapy.
|Blue||“Depth of Feeling” and is concentric, passive, incorporative, heteronomous, sensitive, perceptive, and unifying. Its affective aspects are tranquility, contentment, tenderness, and love and affection|
|Green||“Elasticity of Will” and is concentric, passive, defensive, autonomous, retentive, possessive, and immutable. Its affective aspects are persistence, self-assertion, obstinacy, and self-esteem|
|Red||“Force of Will” and is ex-centric, active, offensive-aggressive, autonomous, locomotor, competitive, and operative. Its affective aspects are desire, excitability, domination, and sexuality|
|Yellow||“Spontaneity” and is ex-centric, active, projective, heteronomous, expansive, aspiring, and investigatory. Its affective aspects are variability, expectancy, originality, and exhilaration|
|Violet||“Identification” and looks for reality in everything thought and desired. Violet is enchantment and wants a magical relationship|
|Brown||Bodily senses, indicate the body’s condition|
|Grey||Non-involvement and concealment|
|Black||Nothingness, renunciation, surrender or relinquishment|
It was not only discredited but an example of the Barnum effect – a common psychological phenomenon when individuals give highly accurate yet vague descriptions of their personality supposedly tailored for them but general enough when applied to a wide range of people. It was originally called the “fallacy of personal validation” by American psychologist Bertram R. Forer before it was called the Barnum effect or the Forer effect. Such techniques are used by mentalists, fortune tellers, astrologers, aura readers and other practitioners to convince people that they are endowed with paranormal abilities. For example, horoscope personality tests say that if you’re a Pisces then you are an emotionally sensitive, gracious, and emotionally aware individual; even though you could be a jerk but just born between February 19th and March 20th.
Others who painted their walls pink
The other name for this colour was Drunk Tank Pink or Schauss pink when smaller county jails began tossing disorderly drunk people into pink holding cells. Mason County, Texas used the colour in their jails and inmate uniforms in an attempt to stop re-offenders in 2006. Sheriff Clint Low said that the inmates don’t like wearing them and would rather hang around upstairs of the prison. He was inspired by another sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, Joe Arpaio, who had inmates fitted in pink boxers.
Another sheriff that outfitted his prison with pink was in Dallas County, Missouri in 2006. After a failed breakout that included fire damage and vandalism, 33 inmates were welcomed back to their cells painted in bright pink paint with blue stencilled teddy bears on the doors around 2006. Sheriff Mike Rackley said, “Basically, if they are going to act like children and commit a childish act, then we’ll make a childish atmosphere. And its a calming thing; Teddy bears are soothing. So we made it like a day care, and that’s kind of like what it is, a day care for adults who can’t control their behavior in public.” The area of damage was in the shower. They punched a hole through the ceiling and started a fire in the hope to burn the plywood barrier to gain access to the air ducts. Eight of the inmates spend most of their time in their cells due to the construction.
Kinnick Stadium in Iowa painted their opponent’s locker room pink to “pacify” them. Kinnick Stadium is home to the Hawkeyes at the University of Iowa. The whole locker room from the ceiling to the floor is painted pink, a pale Dusty Rose pink. It’s a tradition that former head coach Hayden Fry started more than 40 years ago. He believed that it was a cowardly colour that created a “passive mood” for the visiting team. There was some controversy when a visiting law professor protested the colour as demeaning to women and the gay community in 2005. But the students at the school supported the pink colour. The colour still stays part of the university tradition.
Most of the time, the colour pink is used to make areas that seem tough and unattractive appear approachable and pretty. Maxwan design studio in Rotterdam, Netherlands created a gigantic pink tin bus stop to resemble canvas fabric in the wind. They created the “world’s thinnest steel roofs” for the canopy.
The pink colour was called a “non-drug anesthetic” by Schauss. By the 1990s, many other researchers found weaker evidence for the calming effects. The researchers found that there was some effect on the speed and accuracy of the participants in a standard digit-symbol test.
Restudying the study
By 1991, there was a study on a reduction of blood pressure of emotionally disturbed participants in pink rooms. And another study on prisoners and male university students acting as prisoners found that Baker-Miller pink walls and pink-filtered light could reduce the time to people thus becoming calmer.
But by the year 2014, a Swiss psychologist, Oliver Genschow at Ghent University, studied the connection between the colour pink and aggression in his paper, “Does Baker-Miller pink reduce aggression in prison detention cells? A critical empirical examination.” His study with his team used randomly selected 59 inmates in a prison in Switzerland for violating prison regulations as punishment. Half were selected for the pink cells and the other half were selected for the grey/white cells with their aggression noted after three days in confinement. He wrote that within his studies that the colour pink has no effect to make anyone less aggressive. However, they speculated that “it may attack inmates’ perceived manhood and/or cause feelings of humiliation.”
Banner Credit: Solitary Confinement at Alcatraz: ID 3760398 © Auntpittypat | Dreamstime.com
Alter, Adam. Drunk Tank Pink: and other unexpected forces that shape how we think, feel and behave. Penguin Books, New York, NY, 2014.
Blegvad, Kaye. The Pink Book: An Illustrated Celebration of the Color; from Bubblegum to Battleships. Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA, 2019, pp. 167-168.
Clair, St Kassia. The Secret Lives of Color, Penguin Books, New York, NY, 2017, pp. 118–119.