There’s a shade of pink, called Baker-Miller, that allegedly reduces stress and aggression. Discovered by Alexander Schauss, a scientist at the American Institute for Biosocial Research in Tacoma, Washington, the color was originally painted on the walls of the naval correctional institute in Seattle as a way to calm prisoners.
The verdict is out, however, on whether it works. Some studies claim Baker-Miller is effective, while others say it’s a bunch of phooey. I spoke with James Gilliam, a scientist in the latter camp, who conducted a 1991 study that found no evidence the color is calming.
But that didn’t put me off. In fact, it only increased my curiosity when I came across the Vollebak Baker-Miller Pink Hoodie, a soft-shell fleece that supposedly helps athletes chill out. The fleece looks like any other performance hoodie, except it’s pink and the hood includes a mesh full-face mask (like the one Jason wears but softer) that’s supposed to shut out the world without inducing claustrophobia. Sound weird? It is. But I decided to put it to the test. Here’s what I found out.
I wanted to test the hoodie in multiple environments, so I used it in my office and before a kayak trip. Freelancing brings its own kind of stress: to calm my nerves about impending deadlines, I donned the piece with the mask over my face and lay on my floor for the suggested three 15-minutes intervals while listening to Vollebak’s accompanying pink-noise soundtrack. (Pink noise is like white noise but with more low-frequency components.) I also did three intervals without the music. Instead of just testing how I felt, I measured my heart rate before and after. As a control, I lay on the floor for three 15-minute periods with a white hoodie and white cloth over my face and no music.
For the kayak trip, I took the hoodie to the Scott River, a Class IV/V run. Five weeks ago, I was with a friend who broke his femur in a rapid on the river, so I was nervous about getting in the water. To see if I could calm my nerves, I spent 15 minutes in the hoodie during the drive, and then took it off and got in my boat.
In the office, my heart rate was two, four, and five beats per minute (BPM) slower with the Baker-Miller Pink Hoodie plus soundtrack, and zero, five, and one BPM slower with the hoodie sans soundtrack. My heart rate was one, three, and three BPM slower with a cotton hoodie. There was barely a difference between the pink and white materials and the pink noise.
I didn’t test my heart rate at the river, but I could tell the hoodie did little to alleviate my fears. In fact, it might have made things worse—I caught a bunch of flak from my paddling partners because they thought I looked ridiculous. I could have worn the hoodie longer and looked for a quiet spot to lay down, but that seemed like an unrealistic scenario for most athletes.
It’s common sense that deep breathing and other relaxation techniques help an athlete concentrate before she jumps into something dangerous or scary. If some people find that lying down in a pink hoodie for 15 minutes helps them find this focus, that’s great. But I suspect they can find other ways to calm down that don’t include a $315 piece of gear.
Plus, because the hoodie is so well built that it can be used only in colder temps. Otherwise it’s too warm.