Rule Your World: The Power of Fear (and Color)

Behavior expert Daniel Pink is showing us how to use diabolical psychology for the greater good in this weekly video series.

Humans have limits to what they can focus on at any given moment. So if you can only pay attention to one thing, you better prioritize the thing that’s threatening you. People routinely succumb to this negativity bias–we pay more attention to scary messages. Take for example the routine inflight safety announcement on commercial planes. For most passengers, this is seen as a good time to either zone out, crack open a book, or get your music playlist going–because if you’ve heard the safety message once, you’ve heard it a thousand times, right?

Seeing this as a perfect opportunity to use the powers of behavioral science, Daniel re-wrote the announcement to highlight some shocking truths. Now imagine yourself with your seat belt securely fastened before taking off on your next trip… Would this announcement capture your attention?

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. If staying alive is important to you today, we ask you to please take a moment to listen to your safety information. It could be the difference between life and death. By opting to ignore this announcement, in the unlikely event of a crash, you will have increased your chance of dying by over 40%, so we suggest you listen. In the unlikely event of an emergency landing, sitting in the seat not in the vertical and upright position could fatally injure, either yourself, or the passenger behind you, or it could block passengers from trying to evacuate the aircraft. Failure to adapt the correct brace position could result in a broken neck, broken legs, or any other broken body parts on impact. I urge you to keep this in mind, to prevent becoming trapped in the cabin during a fire and burning to death. Please remember these instructions, it may increase your chances of survival. Failure to comply could kill you.

Now, this type of extreme approach might not bode so well for airlines, but it certainly helped the passengers in our experiment perform much better in a simulated-emergency. But there’s a key takeaway here that can be applied well outside of the cabin doors–and that’s focusing on the WHY versus the HOW. We all know how to buckle our seat belt, but do we know why we should? Sometimes, instilling a little fear can go a long way in describing consequences for our actions–or in this case, inactions. Daniel Pink discusses this principle in the latest installment of Rule Your World: Travel Tricks:

Fortunately, the odds of actually dying on a commercial plane are pretty small. About 11 million to one. But the odds of losing your patience at baggage claim are probably a lot higher. Which brings us to the next installment of Rule Your World: Anger Management.

In this experiment, Daniel goes to a place where literally no one is happy to be there: the impound lot. How could he possibly make this a happy place? Well, that’s where the power of color comes in… the power of drunk tank pink, more specifically.

Not super eager to cover your walls in this Pepto-Bismol-esque color? Well, there are plenty of other powerful hues you can add to your color tool kit.

Trying to lose weight or eat less? The color blue is a known appetite suppressant with calming properties that will help you eat slow. So, paint your dining room, use blue plates or a blue tablecloth–heck, get crazy and install blue lightbulbs.

Or maybe you’re just trying to find that special someone. Wear red. Whether in your online dating profile pic or to your next night out on the town, red is known to attract more attention.

Use these tricks wisely, and never underestimate the power of fear… and color!

Don’t miss new episodes of Crowd Control, Mondays at 9/8c on National Geographic Channel.