Does Pink Purposefully Prevent Prisoners From Pummeling People?

When you see the color pink, you might think about any number of things: the panther nemesis of Inspector Clouseau, Floyd’s first name, the last name of Clara Oswald’s boyfriend in Doctor Who, or the strangely-colored poop pandemic that had its origins in breakfast cereal.

Whatever you think of is not nearly as important as how pink makes you feel. Take a look at it for a moment:

How’s your blood pressure? Are you feeling at all edgy? Is your breathing calming down at all?

These are important questions because you didn’t look at just any old shade of pink. It is Baker-Miller Pink. Or, as those of us who are colorblind lovingly refer to it, #FF91AF on the Hex triplet color coordinates.

Our story begins (although we’re already five paragraphs into the article) with Swiss psychiatrist Max Lüscher. He researched the connection between an individual’s personality and his or her color preferences. Lüscher noticed a change in color preferences that seemed to correspond to psychological and physiological changes in those whom he studied. He theorized that changes in a person’s hormone levels affect a person’s preference for colors.

According to Lüscher, a preference for a particular color suggests the corresponding personality trait:

Blue“Depth of feeling” passive, concentric, tranquility, calm, tenderness
Green“Elasticity of will” passive, concentric, defensive, persistence, self-esteem/assertion, pride, control
Red“Force of will” excentric, active, aggressive, competitive, action, desire, excitement, sexuality
Yellow“Spontaneity” excentric, active, projective, aspiring, expectancy, exhilaration
Violet“Identification” unrealistic/wishful fulfillment, charm, enchantment
BrownBodily senses, indicates the body’s condition
BlackNothingness, renunciation, surrender, or relinquishment
GreyNon-involvement and concealment

Editor’s Note: We have been unable to find confirmation in the studies for the suggestion that this writer’s colorblindness may be the explanation for his alleged lack of personality. Research is ongoing and there will be further bulletins as events warrant.

The flipside to Lüscher‘s theory is the suggestion that the reverse may be true. In other words, exposure to colors may trigger hormonal changes in a person that would affect his or her personality.

“Even if a person tries to be angry or aggressive in the presence of pink, he can’t,” Schauss claimed. “The heart muscles can’t race fast enough. It’s a tranquilizing color that saps your energy.”

Lüscher‘s studies got the attention of Alexander Schauss. He noticed there was one color in particular that was missing from earlier studies: pink. In the late 1960s, he began his research into the psychological effects of pink. He wondered if the power of a particular shade could be harnessed and used to benefit society.

After testing the color theory on himself and his assistant, Schauss zeroed in on a particular shade of pink that was achieved by mixing 1 gallon (3.8 L) of pure white indoor latex paint with an equal amount of red trim semi-gloss outdoor pink. The result was initially called P-618 or Schauss pink. He found that staring at a patch of this shade immediately after exercise had the effect of slowing heart rate and breathing while increasing feelings of relaxation and tranquility.

Schauss moved his experiments to the Naval Correction Facility in Seattle, Washington in 1979. Its directors, Gene Baker and Ron Miller, were awarded for their cooperation when P-618 was officially renamed to Baker-Miller Pink.

Schauss had some of the prisoners’ cells at the institute painted in Baker-Miller Pink and carefully monitored the prison’s culture to see if there was an effect. The Navy’s report on the experiment noted, “Since the initiation of this procedure on 1 March 1979, there have been no incidents of erratic or hostile behavior during the initial phase of confinement.” They found that a mere 15 minutes of exposure to the color resulted in a marked reduction in violent or aggressive behavior.

Schauss was convinced and proudly proclaimed pink as the pacifying purge to prisoner punching. “Even if a person tries to be angry or aggressive in the presence of pink, he can’t,” Schauss claimed. “The heart muscles can’t race fast enough. It’s a tranquilizing color that saps your energy.”

Baker-Miller Pink became the color of choice in correctional facilities throughout the United States. It was also used in schools and psychiatric hospitals. The color-calming propensities of pink were also used to try to achieve an advantage on the football field. The head coaches of the University of Iowa and Colorado State had the locker rooms of the opposing teams painted in Baker-Miller Pink, hoping it would sap their opponents of their fighting spirit. This was deemed unfair by the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), which adopted a rule that the locker rooms of both teams must be painted in the same color.

Despite the extraordinary results reported in Schauss’s studies, independent research has cast some doubt on whether there is any real science to any of this. A controlled study by James E. Gilliam and David Unruh was unable to replicate Schauss’s results. Curiously, when Santa Clara County, California tried to produce the same calming effect on its prisoners that the Naval Correctional Facility experienced, it blew up in their faces. Although there was a slight decrease in prison violence in the month after introducing the color, it all went off the rails after that. Soon, the violent incident rate surpassed the pre-pink period.

There has yet to be a conclusive finding about whether exposure to Baker-Miller Pink legitimately reduces aggression, or if it is all hokum. Despite the uncertainty, Switzerland continues to employ the color scheme in its correctional facilities, and when is the last time you heard about a bone-breaking riot in a Swiss jail?

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