The book Dress For Success became a phenomenal bestseller during the 1970s.
The book describes the huge impact our clothing choices have on the people we meet both socially and professionally.
Since then, a whole new field of study has developed around our choice of attire and how it affects not just others, but how we think about ourselves. More recently, scientists have studied how our attire can even influence our brain function.
The effect of clothing on cognitive processes even has its own name: enclothed cognition. Let’s take a look at the findings.
Two cognitive psychologists coined the term enclothed cognition in 2012 after conducting three experiments to discover whether the clothing we wear affects our psychological state and the way we perform tasks.
In the first experiment, they randomly assigned 58 students to wear either a scientist’s white lab coat or street clothes while they undertook a test for selective attention. This tests the ability to focus and concentrate by spotting incongruities, such as the word red written in green ink.
The lab coat wearers made half as many errors as the regular clothing group. Researchers concluded that wearing the laboratory coat improved mental accuracy. Then, they went one step further…
Wear a Doctor’s Coat for Greater Focus and Attention
One of the psychologists, Professor Adam Galinsky, from Northwestern University, Illinois, pointed out that we think with our bodies as well as our brains. Clothes allow us to take on certain roles, which, in our minds, are linked to particular qualities that influence our abilities.
So, if we think of doctors as intelligent, scientific and precise, this becomes symbolized within us by wearing a white coat associated with the medical profession. These qualities are then stimulated in the wearer — enough to produce measurable effects on the brain.
Since 2012, several other studies have confirmed the effect of clothing on the wearer’s thinking as well as its impact on behavior and even on biology.
In one of these studies, job performance improved when men wore clothes considered to convey high social status. The clothing led the men to be more dominant in a situation where this was an advantage. In contrast, men wearing low status clothing saw a decline in their performance and even suffered a drop in testosterone levels of 20 percent.
In another study, formal clothes allowed the wearer to think more abstractly and see the bigger picture without being distracted by detail.
In the latest study, published in June, women who wore tight, revealing outfits had slower reaction times and made poorer decisions compared to women wearing loose, concealing clothes.
The University of Toronto researchers wrote that heightened body awareness of the women wearing tighter clothes “may draw cognitive resources from the goal task.”
How Enclothed Cognition can Benefit You
Michael W. Kraus, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior at Yale University, who led one of the studies, said we can use knowledge about the cognitive effects of clothing “to strategically nudge our own behavior in one direction or another.”
Where we need to project authority, wearing a suit is preferable. If teamwork and compromise are more important, casual clothing would fit the bill.
“What is clear,” he writes, “is that simple choices about what to wear can be made thoughtfully, with an eye toward increasing success, improving job performance and earning respect in the eyes of others.”
For psychologist Emily van Sonnenberg, enclothed cognition can “intentionally shape your subjective psychological experience and performance each day, or on special days say, when you have a job interview, a date, or need to take a test.”
Ask yourself how you want to feel on any particular day– friendly, fierce, confident, sexy, composed, loving, etc. — and then find articles of clothing that symbolize those feelings for you.