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Quick: think of a light bulb. Inspired by the titular pink of the book-a hue believed to reduce physical violence-Alter explores a range of subtle, immaterial factors that can produce very real changes in behavior, mood, and even intelligence. The author's examples are diverse: from direct environmental cues such as colored light or visual symbols like light bulbs (found to aid the solving of insight-based exercises) to more complex phenomena like built environments, labels, and social isolation. Alter, a social psychologist and professor at NYU, not only explains the source of many cognitive quirks, but convincingly argues that comprehending them affords a better understanding of broader behaviors, from cyclical poverty to altruism. Some of these experiments will be familiar to readers-a chapter on naming builds on research explained in Freakonomics, and his discussion of groupthink begins with a recounting of the Kitty Genovese murder. But in Alter's hands, these case studies take on new life-the famous "two line" optical illusion opens into a fascinating explication of the perceptual effects of living in "geometric interiors." Alter fluently moves between psychology, medicine, and cultural history, offering surprises to readers at many levels of expertise. Agent: Katinka Matson, Brockman, Inc. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
It's commonly known that a lot of police departments and detention centers use a certain shade of pink in their cells because the color is believed to have a calming effect. But the color pink isn't the only thing that affects how we behave; there are dozens of factors that influence our thoughts and beliefs. Consider the compass, for example: the earth's surface is horizontal, and there's no need for north to be above south, but the association of north with up and south with down has some very interesting repercussions (such as people's tendency to prefer to travel south rather than north to go to a store, because north is uphill). Or consider this: people with names that begin with the letter K were responsible for 10 percent of donations for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, but for only 4 percent of donations to all disasters before Katrina. An intelligent, often surprising exploration of the way cues of all varieties (sounds, colors, images, symbols, and more) shape the people we are, for better or worse.--Pitt, David Copyright 2010 Booklist