Want to Improve Your Attention? Wear a White Coat

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The power of ‘enclothed cognition’: how what you wear affects how you think.

It’s surprising how much simple movements of the body can affect the way we think. Using expansive gestures with open limbs makes us feel more powerful, crossing your arms makes you more persistent and lying down can bring more insights (read more here: 10 Simple Postures That Boost Performance).

So if moving the body can have these effects, what about the clothes we wear?

We’re all well aware of how dressing up in different ways can make us feel more attractive, sporty or professional, depending on the outfit, but can the clothes you wear actually change cognitive performance or is it just a feeling?

Adam and Galinsky (2012) tested the effect of simply wearing a white lab coat on people’s powers of attention. The idea is that white coats are associated with scientists, who are in turn thought to have close attention to detail.

What they found was that people wearing white coats outperformed those who weren’t. Indeed they made only half as many errors as those wearing their own clothes on the Stroop Test (one way of measuring attention).

The authors dub the effect ‘enclothed cognition’, suggesting that all manner of different clothes probably affect our cognition in many different ways.

This opens the way for all sorts of clothes-based experiments. Is the writer who wears a fedora more creative? Is the psychologist wearing little round glasses and smoking a cigar more insightful. Does a chef’s hat make the resultant food taste better?

From now on I will only be editing articles for PsyBlog while wearing a white coat to help keep the typo count low. Hopefully you will be doing your part by reading PsyBlog in a cap and gown.

Image credit: mars_discovery_district

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Published: 30 March 2012

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Images: Creative Commons License