What you wear defines you as a person.

Posted: March 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

Goths, Preps, Emos, Mods, Chavs, etc, are all easily definable because of the clothes they wear. We dress smartly in our suits for interviews and are team kits for sports. Dressing appropriately communicates a lot of information to others, but have you ever stopped to think that you clothes may be controlling you?
‘Enclothed Cognition” by Adam, H., and Galinsky, A. (2012) has brought to light some of the strange and interesting ways the clothes we wear have an effect on us. They focused on the power of a white coat (something we have all seen before in Milgram’s study but bare with me). 58 students were asked to do the stroop test (again bare with me), half wearing a white coat because they had been told there was building work in earlier trials so they wanted to keep it consistent. Weirdly the students in the white coats made half as many errors. Now we are to used to reading research results so maybe that doesn’t seem very impressive, but really think about it, a piece of white fabric with sleeves and a collar can make you better at a task. I know what I’m wearing in our next exams. They also did trials where they were told coat belongs to a painter and another where the coat was on a chair but they did little to improve scores.

Now the white coat thing might not seem to have much ecological validity (unless your a chemist), but think of all the real world examples where this could be taking place. wearing a robe in hospital might make u feel ill, mental institutions, dress codes for work, soldiers, riots,  the applications are fairly unlimited and apparently effective.

It’s common to hear of research where a persons attire can have an affect on a population( bushman, zimbardo etc), but I love the way they have flipped it on its head. You can imagine that a policeman in his high visibility car, stab vest etc would have a profound effect on who ever they pull over, but we rarely stop to think how that normal human being feels in that uniform. My advice don’t dress because that’s how you feel dress how you want to feel. Swimming shorts in the winter who’s in?

“Clothes can have profound and systematic psychological and behavioural consequences for their wearers… might the robe of a priest make us more moral? Would a firefighter’s suit make us more brave? “Although the saying goes that clothes do not make the man, …our results suggest they do hold a strange power over their wearers.”

I now only worry for the nudists.

  1. prpij says:

    Interesting blog, turns out females are more affected by what they wear than males, also there perceived moods affect there selection of clothing http://ctr.sagepub.com/content/9/4/41.short it could be argued that people use clothing and image to express themselves in a way that they they would find hard in any other means.

    • psucc3 says:

      “express themselves in a way that they would find hard in any other means”
      In which case is it possible to profile people on certain themes of clothing, could it be that say psychopaths or criminals or bankers have detectable, common themes in the way they dress that could be observed as early warning signs?
      I think that woman could be more susceptible to this effect because of the stereotypes around femininity and a larger involvement in fashion.

  2. Sinae says:

    You’ve found and raised some very interesting points here, and the issues about clothing got me thinking about being back at school. My school were very cruel in the sense of uniform; shirt, tie, BOTTLE GREEN blazor and bottle green skirt… or trousers. So did this beautiful uniform actually help me with my grades?

    According to a study in 2010 by researchers at the University of Houston, no. But they do suggest that uniform increases students’ attendance and teacher retention. They found that attendance increased from 0.3 to 0.4 after uniforms were introduced to certain schools.

    So relating this to your blog, maybe the school uniform made me feel all important like I had a duty to attend to the school. :D


    • psucc3 says:

      Really good example, that’s exactly the kind of stuff I was on about. Clothing is actually being used statistically significantly to control people, its scary thought but it may not be as powerful as we theorize. The recent news terrible news of the US soldier who went AWOL may or may not have been wearing his uniform at the time.

  3. Really interesting blog! I love your writing style, informative yet easy to read and funny.
    While it is very interesting that what we wear can have a huge effect on how we act, I think it’s interesting how people perceive others based on the clothes that they wear. It can also have an effect on how people think about others dressed the same as someone else. For example, as you said in the white coat research, people did better when wearing the white coat, but this connotation of white coat = smart, which may have been where the effect came from, comes from people’s ideas and schemes of people who dress in white coats. So, if participants thought white coat = doctor, doctor = smart, this could have been why there was the effect. So, it all comes back to where these schemas come from. However, this can be dangerous. If a certain person had a bad experience with a doctor, for example, this can alter their thinking so they think all doctors are bad/scary/inexperienced etc. It can lead to prejudices.
    An example I would like to use is from Scrubs (lets keep it fun :p):

    If you go to about 30 seconds in, this woman assumes that JD and the Janitor are both doctors due to their white coats. However, when the Janitor tells her that he’s a janitor and that janitors wear white coats too, she assumes that both JD and the Janitor are janitors. I just think it’s an interesting way to demonstrate that people assume that the same clothing = the same personality/same job etc.

  4. larabarker says:

    Evidence to support the hypothesis that clothes may control you comes from Zimbardo’s famous prison study. He reported that the uniforms the guards and prisoners wore, contributed to they way they acted. The guards outfits were described as intimidating and military style. To make them feel less human, they wore mirror sunglasses to avoid eye contact with the prisoners. These factors caused the guards to act superior and issue punishments, when in real life they were just normal men from similar backgrounds and social environments as the prisoners. Similarly, the prisoners dressed in rags and referred to as numbers not names, acted withdrawn and some experienced emotional distress. Had the prisoners and guards completed this experiment wearing their normal day wear, and not such distinctive uniforms, it is doubtful they would have acted as extremely as they did. This shows that different types of clothing in certain contexts can change how we act towards others and how we view ourselves, however it is not certain whether wearing these outfits in everyday life would have the same effect.


  5. suuzblog says:

    I absolutely love the way you’ve made stats less stats-ish and boring! This topic is so interesting and your blog is really well-written and thought-provoking, I completely agree with the points you make about doctors wearing lab-coats and policemen too. It really got me thinking, and I’m sure all girls will agree, if you wear nice clothes which you know look good on you, you feel more confident and act more confident. And the flip of this, if you’re having a sloppy lazy day then you’ll wear trakkies (come one ladies, we all know it’s true ;) ) In this way you could say that what you’re wearing is defining you as a person, as in either circumstance it either makes you feel more confident or more comfy. Ronald E. Goldsmith examined several personal characteristics of frequent clothing buyers. Those who bought lots of clothes described themselves as, among other things, innovative. Those who buy lots of clothes will wear those clothes, therefore it can be seen that those who wear more clothes see themselves as more innovative, thus what they’re wearing is defining them…. I hope I haven’t rabbited on too much and that you understand what I mean!

  6. […] a convincing argument for removing outliers, with a comprehensive example from the literature. larabarker adds converging evidence to psucc3‘s interesting blog suggesting “you are what you […]

  7. psuc2f says:

    A very interesting blog and it good to read about areas of psychology that most people barely think of and even when they do they generally only look at the concept in 1 way, i.e. people where cloths based on how they feel rather than looking at other prospectuses as Adam and Galinsky have.

    I believe the research described is very much linked to a phenomenon known as priming. Priming is an unconscious process which involves the person having perceptual identification with words and objects (Tulving & Schacter, 1990). Studies have shown that not only do people identify with word and object but their behaviour can also be influenced by priming. A good example was a study which found that people who read sentences that were associated with the stereotypical view of the elderly walked slower down a corridor (walking slower is a common stereotype of the elderly) than those who had the same stereotypes but did not read the priming sentences (Bargh, Chen & Burrows, 1996).

    I believe and what the research suggests is that what you wear I one aspect that can prime our behaviour and just as you said can have significant real world implication. So in the exam hall look out for me I will be the one wearing a lab coat reading philosophy about being smart. : P

    1) Bargh, J., Chen, M., & Burrows, L. (1996). Automaticity of Social Behavior: Direct Effects of Trait Construct and Stereotype Activation on Action. Journal of personality and social psychology. 71, 230-244.
    2) Tulving, E., & Schacter, D, L. (1990). Priming and human memory systems. Science, 247, 301-306.

  8. I read a really interesting study a while ago where flirtatious dialogue was exchanged between a girl and a confederate male, whos face was covered but he was showing an identical shirt, which was either red or black. In this context, they found the female would interpret the personality of the male as more positive and optimistic if wearing red, whereas black clothing would perceive social desirability of a discreet character (Takahashi, 2012). Even though this findings were obviously context dependant, I found them interesting, and thought they were relevant to your blog!

    Takahashi, S. (2012). Effect of red vs black clothing on the impression of persons engaged in a dialogue. Journal of the International Colour Association , 7, 4-12.

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