If someone were to tell you that the blazer you wore today had a significant effect on how you went about your day, what you accomplished, and how others treated you would you believe them?
Chances are you would be skeptical at best. However, recent research (as recent as a few months ago) has proven that wearing formal clothing has an impact on people’s cognitive behaviours.
Research conducted by Michael Slepian, Simon Ferber, Joshua Gold and Abraham Rutchick, entitled “The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing,” explores the relationship between wearing formal clothing and different mental capabilities, and specifically, abstract cognitive processing (which is regarded as higher-level processing). Not only does clothing influence impressions made by others about oneself, but it is also responsible for influencing cognition on a broad scale, “impacting the processing style that changes how objects, people, and events are construed” (Slepian et. al. 661).
What did the study find?
The researchers conducted five studies in total, each very detailed and elaborate, and so they won’t be discussed in detail here, however an attempt will be made to highlight important aspects of each study. Researchers used undergraduate students as participants. The first study examined the relation between the clothing participants wore and the ability for abstract processing. This study, after accounting for confounding variables such as socio-economic status, revealed that wearing relatively formal clothing was associated with increased abstract processing in everyday life. The second study served as a conceptual replication of the first study and examined another method of abstract processing. Results of this study confirmed results of the first study.
The third study manipulated clothing formality by having participants change into either formal or casual clothing. This study demonstrated that wearing formal clothing increased the extent to which participants exhibited abstract processing, which suggests a causal link between wearing formal clothing and abstract processing. The fourth study replicated the third, however used more participants; the results were replicated. Finally, the fifth study explored the proposed mechanism of the impact of formal clothing shown in the previous studies. Researchers assessed social commonality, social closeness, intimacy, power, mood and arousal. Researchers found that “felt power” significantly mediated the relationship between clothing formality and abstract processing.
Implications of this study
If someone were to tell you that the blazer you wore today had a significant effect on how you went about your day, what you accomplished, and how others treated you would you believe them? The above study is proof that what we wear in our day-to-day lives actually has a direct effect on how we think, what we do, and how we interact with others. This is not to say you should dress in a suit every day of your life to maximize this effect, however, try to be cognizant of the very real effects that clothing can have on your mind, body and spirit.
Slepian, Michael, Simon Ferber, Joshua Gold and Abraham Rutchick. ”The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing.” Social Psychology and Personality Science 6.6 (2015): 661-668.