Dress Better. It’s Science

Just finished reading a report over at the New York (Beta) Times about the psychological effect our clothing can have on us.

If you wear a white coat that you believe belongs to a doctor, your ability to pay attention increases sharply. But if you wear the same white coat believing it belongs to a painter, you will show no such improvement.

So scientists report after studying a phenomenon they call enclothed cognition: the effects of clothing on cognitive processes.

It is not enough to see a doctor’s coat hanging in your doorway, said Adam D. Galinsky, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, who led the study. The effect occurs only if you actually wear the coat and know its symbolic meaning — that physicians tend to be careful, rigorous and good at paying attention.

The findings, on the Web site of The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, are a twist on a growing scientific field called embodied cognition. We think not just with our brains but with our bodies, Dr. Galinsky said, and our thought processes are based on physical experiences that set off associated abstract concepts. Now it appears that those experiences include the clothes we wear.

This study points out two major things to me.

First is that, whether we like it or not, the clothes we wear carry as much meaning as the words we say or the actions we perform. It’s another knife in the chest of the slobs who say it doesn’t matter how they dress. Sorry guys, it actually and measurably does.

In the first[experiment] 58 undergraduates were randomly assigned to wear a white lab coat or street clothes. Then they were given a test for selective attention based on their ability to notice incongruities, as when the word “red” appears in the color green. Those who wore the white lab coats made about half as many errors on incongruent trials as those who wore regular clothes.

In the second experiment, 74 students were randomly assigned to one of three options: wearing a doctor’s coat, wearing a painter’s coat or seeing a doctor’s coat. Then they were given a test for sustained attention. They had to look at two very similar pictures side by side on a screen and spot four minor differences, writing them down as quickly as possible.

Those who wore the doctor’s coat, which was identical to the painter’s coat, found more differences. They had acquired heightened attention. Those who wore the painter’s coat or were primed with merely seeing the doctor’s coat found fewer differences between the images.

Second is that our own latent abilities can be drawn out depending on how we dress. This is a key aspect in developing the confidence to accomplish whatever task you have your mind on.

Are you nervous about approaching a girl because you feel like your life isn’t together enough to merit any attraction. Throw on a suit, it will have an actual change on the confidence you feel and therefore, the confidence you project.

I went rock climbing last night for my first time. I can’t imagine how it would have felt if I were wearing jeans, a polo, and a jacket instead of gym shorts, climbing shoes and a T-shirt. Knowing that I was dressed appropriately gave me a bit more of an edge and made me more comfortable on the wall.

I bet you play golf a bit better if you dress like a golfer.

The possibilities of this could be very interesting and I’m curious to see if they go beyond this initial study.

It would also be great Contrast Game for those who already have a gold-plated inner sense of themselves. If you can command a room of bankers wearing jeans and a T, the contrast will just make them and everyone else in there look up to you even more.

Have any of you ever noticed an increase in your performance when you wore something more appropriate?