The Kernel of Truth in Apparel Marketing: Using Clothes to Change Behavior

When I was  in graduate school, the research center I worked at always asked the undergrad research assistants to wear lab coats when running experiments. We thought it was easy an easy way to confer them with an air of authority. Turns out we might have actually been making them smarter. Jamie Wiebe at the The Atlantic discusses the concept of "enclothed cognition," the idea that what we wear can influence what we do and how we feel. (This is related to the idea of embodied cognition, which suggests that our subjective states are heavily influenced by our physical states and movements.) She cites a recent paper by Adam Hajo and Adam Galinsky at Northwestern University, who examined this by conducting a series of experiments. They had participants complete tests of attention while wearing or not wearing a white coat. And, they either called this coat a lab coat or a "painter's coat." From the abstract...

In Experiment 1, physically wearing a lab coat increased selective attention compared to not wearing a lab coat. In Experiments 2 and 3, wearing a lab coat described as a doctor's coat increased sustained attention compared to wearing a lab coat described as a painter's coat, and compared to simply seeing or even identifying with a lab coat described as a doctor's coat. Thus, the current research suggests a basic principle of enclothed cognition—it depends on both the symbolic meaning and the physical experience of wearing the clothes.

Why is this interesting?

For one thing, this shows that wearing a particular item influences not just overt behavior, but a cognitive abilty (selective attention) that is not usually thought to be under volitional control. In other words, wearing the coat made them perform better in a way that they shouldn't be able to just "turn on" (kind of like how Air Jordans are supposed help your vertical leap--except that it actually works). For another thing, it shows that the meaning is important. The associations they made with the garment influenced their thinking.

As an CBT/ACT therapist, I'm fascinated by they "Fake it 'Til You Make It" quality of these theories. And as a person who tends to be analytical by default, I find it refreshing and empowering to think that you can just feel better by DOING something.

How is this useful? A few ideas.

1. Finding a job. If you've ever been between jobs, you know how incredibly difficult it can be to consistently find the mindset and motivation to push the search forward. If you work in a field that requires sepparate "work clothes," it might be worth dressing up, even ifyou're just working on your resume or doing a phone interview.

2. Landing a promotion. Okay, this is admittedly an old idea: "Dress for the job you want, and not the job you have." Maybe there is really something to that?

3. Getting sleepy. A central part of CBT for Insomnia involves creating a regular bedtime routine, which helps you signal to your brain that it is time for bed. If you aveh clothes that you are comfortable in, maybe it would help to wear them right at the time you're planning to go to sleep, and to take them off as soon as you wake up?