One of our favorite subjects is the way marketers can use psychology to manipulate you into doing what they want (we don't think "brainwashing" is too strong a word).
We know what you're thinking: You're far too cynical to fall for the ads you fast forward through on your DVR or the little tricks employed by marketers and politicians to push your subconscious buttons. But are you sure? Because science has found ...
5The Color of a Pill Can Trick You into Thinking It's Working
Remember when Neo got to choose between the red pill and the blue pill? The blue pill would have put him back to sleep in the fake world of cubicles and steaks in the Matrix, where the red pill would wake him up to the real world and its industrial womb factory. You probably just chalked that scene up to another case of Hollywood turning a complicated situation into a simplistic metaphor, but what you probably didn't realize is that you're living out your own little Matrix scenario every time you go to the pharmacy.
"I really hope being swallowed by a mirror is covered by my insurance."
Did you notice how the red pill would let Neo "wake up" to the real world, but the blue pill would let him stay "asleep" in the dream world? Now go to your pharmacy. What color are all of the sleeping pills?
Blue, blue and blue -- if not the package, then the pill itself. That's not coincidence; researchers have found that the color of a pill makes a difference in how it works. In one study, every patient was given the exact same sedative, but some patients received it in a blue pill and others in an orange pill. The blue pill takers reported falling asleep 30 minutes faster, and sleeping 30 minutes longer, than the orange pill takers.
What the hell? It's yet another weird manifestation of the placebo effect. You probably already know that you can give a guy with a headache a Tic Tac and tell him it's medicine, and there's a good chance it will fix his headache just like an aspirin would, for reasons science doesn't completely understand. Well, it turns out that that already illogical and somewhat insane phenomenon is also affected by the color of the pill. The reason is that how you perceive effectiveness affects effectiveness -- and when it comes to stuff you consume, color matters.
So, in a different experiment, subjects were told they were going to get a sedative or a stimulant, when in fact they were getting neither -- all of the pills were placebos. Yet 66 percent of the subjects who took blue pills reported feeling less alert, compared to only 26 percent of those who took pink pills. That's because we've been trained to think that blue = sleep.
Also blue = drowning, and certain types of poisonous reptiles. Sweet dreams!
In a different study, when researchers put various fake medicine packages in front of subjects, the subjects picked certain colors of boxes over others. Warm colors like brown and red were perceived as more potent, especially if the shades were darker. Green and yellow, on the other hand, might as well have been 7Up-flavored Tic Tacs as far as the subjects were concerned. And this is why heart medicines are often red and brown, while skin medicines are yellow and sleeping pills are often blue or green. Painkillers, on the other hand, are often white ... maybe to remind us of opium? We're not sure.
All we remember is consuming ghosts whole, and then the long silence.
Wait, it gets even stupider. Color associations are also cultural. Maybe in America blue is a calming, peaceful color, but in Italy it's associated with the national soccer team. So researchers found that, rather than making him drowsy, a blue pill would send an Italian man screaming and singing and rioting into the night.