Monday, 12 March 2012

Does what we wear affect how we think?

by Bea Wilkinson 

Most of us are aware that the way in which we dress affects how others perceive us, but new research suggests that our clothing also has an effect on our own thoughts and abilities.

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A recent study by Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky tested this theory. 58 students took part in the well known Stroop Test (a test where the participant is asked to read out a list of colours, but the ink colour of the word must be named, not the written colour – e.g. the word red may be written in blue ink, and participants have to read the correct word without allowing themselves to be confused by the print colour.)

29 participants took the test wearing normal clothes, and 29 participants wore white lab coats to complete the test. The participants wearing lab coats did markedly better than the participants wearing their own clothes, making 50% less errors in the Stroop Test.

Next, Adam and Galinsky wanted to test their idea that the success shown in the tests depends on the symbolic meaning of the clothes as well as actually wearing them. Participants were asked to complete sustained attention tests which involved spotting out differences between two almost identical images.


It was found that the participants who wore the lab coat performed much better than other participants who simply saw the lab coat on the desk, or participants who wore the lab coat but were told it belonged to a painter.

"Clothes can have profound and systematic psychological and behavioural consequences for their wearers," the researchers said. Could a firefighter’s coat make us braver? Or a chef’s hat make us a better cook? Galinsky added “although the saying goes that clothes do not make the man, our results suggest they do hold a strange power over their wearers."

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