Enclothed Cognition: Do The Clothes Make The Person?

Whether you’ve dressed up for an important interview or a date, we all know that clothing can have a significant effect on the way others perceive us. However, can the clothes we wear also affect our thoughts and self-perceptions?

Embodied Cognition

To answer this question, it merits pointing out a different psychological phenomenon known as – embodied cognition. The principal hypothesis of embodied cognition is that the state and position of our body can influence our self-perception. For example, washing our hands can make us feel morally purer.

Enclothed Cognition

In a related study, psychologists Adam Galinsky and Hajo Adam imply that clothes could have a comparable effect, which they termed – enclothed cognition. While the impacts of embodied cognition are rather direct, the researchers propose that the influence of enclothed cognition depends on two elements: clothes’ symbolic meaning and the act of wearing the clothes.

The Lab Coat Experiment

To put this idea to the test, the researchers decided to experiment with white lab coats, which are usually associated with scientists and their attentiveness to detail. In the first study, fifty-eight students had to take the Stroop Test, which is designed to test selective attention.

Students were shown words denoting different colors, and they had to name the color of the word, not the meaning of the word. For example, if they were shown the word YELLOW written in blue ink, they had to say blue.

Half of the participants were instructed to wear white lab coats for the test, while the other half had to wear their clothes. The results of the experiment revealed that the students who performed the test in white lab coats made half as many mistakes while completing the Stroop test.

Two Factors of Enclothed Cognition

In their follow-up experiment, the researchers wanted to test two previously mentioned factors they suggest affect enclothed cognition: clothes’ symbolic meaning and the act of wearing the clothes.

For this experiment, the participants had to spot the differences between two similar pictures. This time, the first group of participants was given lab coats to wear. The second group was just shown lab coats before taking the test. And the third group was also given a white coat, but they were told that it’s a painter’s coat. Again, participants from the first group performed significantly better than others.

Therefore, as the researchers have proved, the clothes we wear can have strange, yet profound psychological effects on us, which mostly depend on the symbolic meaning we associate with certain pieces of clothing.

[1] “Introducing ‘Enclothed Cognition’ – How What We Wear Affects How We Think.” Research Digest [Online] Available at: https://digest.bps.org.uk/2012/03/01/introducing-enclothed-cognition-how-what-we-wear-affects-how-we-think/ [Accessed on: 18 June 2020]

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