Wearing formal clothes can make you think abstractly, psychologists have found.
Dressing up makes people feel powerful and encourages the brain to focus on ‘big picture’ thinking.
People feel more competent and rational when they are wearing formal clothing.
Thinking in a more abstract way helps people stick to long-term goals and avoid short-term temptations, research has found.
Abstract thinking also increases certain types of creativity, allowing people to make connections between disparate things.
The study’s authors write:
“Formal clothing (like formal language) signals situations that are not casual and familiar (i.e., situations of increased social distance; Easterling et al.,1992).
Indeed, we found that over and above any sociometric status felt when wearing formal clothing, this enhanced social distance (feelings of power) predicts abstract processing.”
For the study, hundreds of people brought two sets of clothes to the lab, one formal, as though they were going to a job interview, and the other casual.
All were given various cognitive tasks to do while wearing the formal and then the casual clothes.
The authors explain the results:
“…clothing formality is associated with abstract processing, with greater formality associated with enhanced abstract processing.”
People felt more competent and rational when wearing the formal clothes, the authors explain:
“Wearing formal clothing is thus related to psychological formality and social distance, whereas casual clothing is related to intimacy and familiarity.
For example, people who wear formal clothes describe themselves as more competent and rational, whereas people who wear casual clothes describe themselves as more friendly and laid-back.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science (Slepian et al., 2015).