Color Me GREAT!

Color Me GREAT!        

Can color make strong men weak, weak men strong, aggressive men timid and timid men aggressive?  The answers may surprise you. 

In the early 1980s University of Iowa coach, Hayden Fry, had the visitors' locker room painted pink in an attempt to get a psychological edge over his opponents. He had the stadium staff spray paint the room in pastel pink with the hope of creating a soothing and calming environment for the opposing team, thereby, making the visiting team as aggressive as ...well...mellow-yellow. This year as part of an $86.8 million renovation of the stadium, the school found ways to make the visitors' locker-room even more tranquil or as some sports writers suggested...Barbie-esque. The university didn't choose simple "pink", but rather "Innocence" for the walls and "Dusty Rose" for the toilets and urinals. While the Hawkeyes dress in a locker room decorated in the team's colors of gold and black, the visiting team changes in a room that looks like it is adorned with Pepto-Bismol. The ceramic tiles in the shower room are pink; the bathroom sinks are pink; the interior of the equipment room is pink, and the open metal lockers that hold players' uniforms are pink. In fact, the only thing not pink is the toilet paper.

Although there are very few incidences in the world of sports where colors were intentionally used to gain an advantage, the Hawkeyes are not the only sports team, and certainly not the first team, to use colors in an attempt to gain an edge over their opponents. The famous Alonzo Stagg, while coaching at Chicago, had two dressing rooms constructed for his players. One of the dressing rooms was painted blue for his team during rest period and the other dressing room red for the team's fight talks. Stagg apparently followed the line of thinking that blue would have a calming effect on his players, while red would have a stimulating effect. Along this same line of thinking, the athletic director at the University of New Mexico went a step further by painting his own dressing room red and the opponent's blue.

The only other application of premeditated color therapy in sports that I am aware of was at the Kansas City Baseball Academy. The Academy's involvement with colors was much more scientific and advanced than any of the aforementioned examples. Actually, the Academy spent a lot of money to research the effects that various colors had on human performance. What they discovered was fascinating.

First of all, they found a prolific number of experimental studies, which revealed that there is a powerful energy source in colors. It should be noted that color in the form of light is part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Of course, light is one of the eight components of the spectrum: others are cosmic rays, gamma rays, X-rays, ultra-violet rays, infrared rays, radio and television rays. All of these components transport energy. The most significant studies in this area emanated from the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, which found that an individual's muscular, mental, and nerve activity could be altered by subjecting the person to certain variations in color. For example, they found that under ordinary white light, muscular activity measured twenty-three empirical units, but picked up slightly under blue light, increased further under green light and reached 30 empirical units under yellow light. When the subjects were exposed to the aforementioned colors for as little as five minutes, they showed significant changes in both their mental and muscular activity. In other words, the colors had a profound effect upon the subject's physical and psychological make-up. Apparently, colors can alter the normal electrical pattern in the brain and the manner in which electricity travels through the muscles of the body.

As you might expect, this can have an influence on physical performance. For instance, research has shown that if an individual focuses on the color pink for as little as fifteen seconds, he will experience measurable weakening of his muscles, which can last for as long as thirty minutes. In addition, there is strong evidence to indicate that the color red can actually enhance physiological strength. We will talk about this in a moment.

Interestingly, colors are not only effective in inducing direct biological changes in people, but they also can arouse feelings and moods in people. For example, research designed to determine the effects of colors on human behavior have revealed that colors can stimulate, depress, relax, or cheer up an individual. There are even colors that can cause irritation and actual physical discomfort. Not only that, but certain colors can arouse specific feelings in people. Blue, for example, conveys peace and contentment; dark blue has a tranquil effect. The color yellow conjures up feelings of achievement. The color red gives you the feeling of vitality, power, and the urge to win. Green and red together stir up feelings of strength and reliability. I could go on and on, because just about every color is associated with some type of feeling or emotion. Generally, though, bright primary colors prompt immediate emotions while subdued colors evoke peace and tranquility. The Academy people were so convinced that certain colors could significantly affect the performance of their ballplayers that they had the entire complex repainted. Believe me, it was no accident that the Academy had the most colored coordinated complex in baseball.

Interestingly, in 1980, a study conducted by psycho­logists Peliegrine and Schauss revealed that strength scores of athletes could be signifi­cantly enhanced by having them workout in a room that was painted entirely in red. The study also revealed that athletes exhibited a significant decrement in strength when they trained in a room painted entirely in pink.  Shortly thereafter law enforcement agencies were quick to see a practical application for the aforementioned results and began painting restraining cells pink. One of the most interesting examples of color effects is Baker-Miller Pink.(closely approximated by Benjamin Moore's #1328). Baker-MillerPink, also known as drunk tank pink, was used to calm violent prisoners in jails. Dr. Alexander Schauss, Ph.D., director of the American Institute for Biosocial Research in Tacoma, Washington was the first to report the calming effect that the color pink had prisoners: "Even if a person tries to be angry or aggressive in the presence of pink, he can't," stated Schauss. "The heart muscles can't race fast enough. It's a tranquilizing color that saps your energy. Even the color blind, amazingly enough, is tranquilized by pink rooms." Before you could say, "Paint your wagon" The medical profession, the academic world, restaurants, hotels and corporate America followed suit, extensively using colors in an attempt to manipulate human behavior and emotions. By 1987, just about every major field of endeavor, except the sports world, was using colors extensively to enhance performance.

Do colors per se really have the power to sway behavior? That question is still up for debate. Current experiments designed to repeat the original studies conducted on colors have revealed mixed results. It now appears that "demand characteristics" may have produced the results. Technically, demand characteristics are cues which are present during an experiment, and these characteristics influence the subjects to perform in a certain way. For example, if a subject is socialized to believe that the color pink is a feminine color and the color blue is a masculine color, this conditioning can influence the way the subjects are influenced by these colors. In short, the possibility exists that an individual responds to colors more by what he has been told about those colors than by the influence of the colors per se.

For instance, in a landmark study designed to test the power of suggestion, Jeffrey Smith had men and women look at eight different colored panels, one at a time and then pull on a hand dynamometer as hard as they could. Before the test, half of the subjects were told that pink would make them weaker, while blue would make them stronger. The other half were told the opposite.

The results revealed that to those who were told that pink would make them stronger, it did, and to those who were told that pink would make them weaker, it did. Smith also learned that contrary to other experiments, his subjects rated pink as more arousing and blue as more relaxing. Regardless, the explicit suggestions had more of an effect on grip strength than did color.

Interestingly, there have been numerous other studies since Smith's innovative investigation that revealed similar results. The question then is not if colors affect performance...the research clearly shows that they do...but rather if it is the inherent effect of colors themselves that have the power to influence behavior or is it the social conditioning associated with colors. That question will only be answered after considerably more research. Certainly colors are something for every coach and athlete to think about.

Yours in strength,

Dr. Judd


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