A recent article in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology by Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky suggests that items of clothing can have an impact on the wearer’s cognitive performance. (See summary.) They offer the term “enclothed cognition” to describe the effects, which in their study seem to result from a combination of the symbolic associations with particular clothing and the actual wearing of the item.
Study participants were asked to perform a Stroop test, which measures the reaction time to tasks requiring attention (identifying colors where the display color doesn’t match the word -- for example, the word “green” displayed in blue). Students who took the test while wearing a white coat lab coat performed significantly better than those not wearing the coats. Participants who took the test while wearing the same coat, but who were told it was a painter’s coat did not show the same performance benefit.
The study also compared the effect of wearing the coat with simply looking at it or writing about it. The greatest effect was found when the coat was identified with something culturally relevant to the participants (the scientists who wear lab coats) and when the coat was worn during the test.
Future research in the area of enclothed cognition would need to explore other kinds of clothes as well as other kinds of tasks. Had participants been asked to draw a picture while wearing a painter’s smock vs a lab coat, the results might have been different.
In any case, this study suggests that putting on your thinking cap might actually give you a boost, especially if your personal sartorial talisman fits with a socially derived symbol of the role or performance you’re seeking.
What do you wear to do your best thinking? Let us know in the comments!
[image for the Magic Brain Thinking Cap available at Amazon]