Yes. It's not a cologne or lucky charm. It's not some high tech gadget. It's not technical at all. It's very surprising to people to learn that these items have a very real and measurable impact on brain function.
It's the clothing you wear. In fact the way clothing effects a person’s cognitive processes even has its own name: enclothed cognition. That name was created in 2012 by two cognitive psychologists after they conducted three experiments to determine if the clothing people wear affects their psychological state and the way they perform tasks.
Their first experiment involving 58 students, they assigned some of the students to wear a scientist’s white lab coat and some to wear street clothes, while they took a test to measure selective attention. That test rates the ability to focus and concentrate by having to spot incongruities — such as the word red printed in green ink.
In that study the students wearing lab coats made only half as many errors as the students in street clothes did. The researchers concluded that wearing the white lab coat improved mental accuracy. Then they took it a step further…
Professor Adam Galinsky from Northwestern University in Illinois, pointed out that people think with our bodies as well as our brains, and clothing allows us to take on certain roles. In our minds, those roles are linked to particular qualities and those qualities can influence our abilities. For example we think of doctors as intelligent, scientific, and precise, so wearing a white coat associated in our minds with the medical profession — doctors, researchers, etc — so those qualities are stimulated in the person wearing them — stimulated enough to be measurable.
Since 2012 several more studies have been conducted and also confirmed the effect of clothing on the wearer’s thinking, as well as having an impact on the wearer’s behavior and even their biology.
In one study job performance improved when the men wore clothing generally seen as the type of clothing worn by people of high social status. The “high status clothing” we will call it, resulted in the men wearing it be more dominant in situations where that dominance was an advantage. On the other hand, the men wearing low status clothing saw a decline in their performance and even had a drop in their testosterone levels of 20 percent.
In yet another study, formal clothing allowed the wearers to think more abstractly and to see the bigger picture without being distracted by details.
In the latest study published in June of 2020, women who wore tight, revealing outfits had slower reaction times and made poorer decisions than the women who wore loose, and more concealing clothing.
The researchers from the University of Toronto who conducted that study said the heightened body awareness of the women in the tighter clothing, may have resulted in those women “drawing cognitive resources (away) from the goal task”. So how can enclothed cognition benefit real people in their everyday lives? Michael W. Kraus, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior at Yale University, who led one of the studies, said people can use the information learned from these studies on the cognitive effects of clothing to “strategically nudge our own behavior in one direction or another”.
For instance, if a person needs to project authority, it’s preferable to wear a suit. But if you are involved in something where teamwork and compromise is important, casual clothing would be better.
Kraus summarized it saying “What is clear 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.”
Psychologist Emily van Sonnenberg said 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.” The bottom line seems to be that a people can ask themselves how they want to feel on a particular day or for a particular occasion or event… friendly, in charge, confident, sexy, composed, loving… etc — and then choose clothing that symbolizes those feelings for them.