In a new scientific study reported by The New York Times on “enclothed cognition,” scientists observed that the way people dress can affect their thought processes. The study focused on lab coats and deduced that individuals who were wearing the lab coats were more observant, had heightened attention and made fewer errors. These findings lead to interesting questions on why and how clothing affects one’s mind.
In an interview with The New York Times, Dr. Adam D. Galinsky, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and also the leader of this study, reported that these findings are most likely based off the symbolic meaning and associations attached to certain articles of clothing. For example, those who are wearing authentic military fatigues may act more official than those who are just wearing camouflage cargo pants from Walmart.
This study is part of a field of science called “embodied cognition,” which is defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as a form of cognition in which “aspects of the agent’s body beyond the brain play a significant causal or physically constitutive role in cognitive processing.”
In interviews with the Catalyst, students reported their own observations on whether they believed that the way they dress affects the way they think or act.
First-year Andrew Fiorillo occasionally wears a lab coat around campus and in his room while studying. Fiorillo did not see any noticeable changes in his observation and attention skills when wearing the lab coat, but he has noticed recurring behavioral changes.
“When I’m wearing a lab coat I think my voice drops about an octave, I put on my glasses, I stroke my hair back more often than I would and, if I had a stethoscope, I would wear one of those too to complete the look,” Fiorillo said. “It’s not that I have to act a certain way, people just expect you to act a certain way. I like to challenge these expectations, if not surpass them.”
Angelica Alexander, a second-year transfer student, plays Quidditch for the New College Fizzing Whizbees. The official uniform consists of a broomstick, cape, jersey, headband and goggles.
“I think I take Quidditch a little more seriously, especially in a game situation when I am wearing the full uniform,” she said. “Though I also feel like my behavior has to justify why I’m wearing this ridiculous outfit.”
“As soon as I put the robes on, I feel official,” first-year Lily Wohl said of her uniform for a church choir. “It adds a sort of status. I begin to walk in a stately way and smile at everyone.”
Lily received a scholarship for being part of the choir and performs almost every week.
“I was hired to act in a traditional way and the robes make it feel real,” she said. “I represent the church and what they stand for and my actions should reflect that. For someone like me who has a solo every couple of weeks, they remember my face and expect me to act a certain way to fit the image the church is trying to portray. The church hired me to put on a show for the congregants and therefore want to see good people representing their church. The image is important and should be upheld.”
All three students reflected on their behavior in and out of uniform and ultimately deduced that it was other people’s expectations that influenced their behavior, rather than the actual clothing itself.
Dr. Galinsky reported that many more studies are needed to fully explore this theory of “enclothed cognition” and the effects that result from it.