Clothes Make the Man (or Woman)

Posted by Lindsay Starke on Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 8:43PM

Have you ever gotten dressed up for Halloween or a costume party and noticed that the getup was beginning to rub off on you? You might, for example, develop the bubbly personality of a cheerleader or the swagger of a pimp while wearing their stereotypical dress. This phenomenon has a name—"enclothed cognition"—and is the subject of recent research out of Northwestern University. Professor Adam Galinsky and his colleagues have found that wearing the white lab coat of a doctor will improve a person's ability to pay attention, as they subconsciously adopt the meticulous intelligence and rigor associated with physicians.

In a series of experiments, Galinsky and his team found that wearing a white lab coat improved attention in general. However, when, in a second trial, some subjects were told that the coat was a painter's coat while others were told it was a doctor's coat, only those who wore the doctor's coat saw the cognitive improvement. The researchers also found that the effect was not transmitted just by seeing the coat, but that it had to be worn.

We already know that the status of the body affects how our mind perceives things; even minutiae like your posture or how recently you've washed your hands can subtly change your psychological state. Enclothed cognition takes this a step further, finding that the associations we have with certain items of clothing can be transmitted through the clothing itself. So, the next time you put on a costume, whether it's for a fancy dress party or just the uniform of business casual, consider how the clothes might just be wearing you.

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