One of the nine cues in Drunk Tank Pink is the influence of language. When a picture of a bridge was shown to Spanish and German-speaking participants, for example, their descriptions of the image varied tremendously. Since the German word for “bridge” is feminine, words like elegant and beautiful were used by the German group. In Spanish, the word is masculine so the bridge was depicted as being strong and rugged by those who spoke Spanish. Another contributor to our behavior involves no words at all. We process symbols and images much more quickly and more effectively than we do words, Alter says. This can profoundly impact the way we act. When exposed to the Apple logo, Alter found that people responded and acted more creatively. This is partially due to the sub-conscious association between that particular symbol and artistry. The symbol actually altered the mind's cognitive functioning.
When releasing this kind of information, Alter stresses that there's always a cost-benefit analysis to consider. Will this information help people to live better lives, or will it have a more negative impact? He hopes that enabling people to recognize how their thought process is driven by environmental cues will help them to be more conscious of their actions.
In his talks, Alter delves into some of these impacts more thoroughly. While knowing these cues exist may not always alter our behavior, he believes we can change our environments into more cognitively healthy ones.