You are What You Wear

Although what you wear to work has a bearing on how you feel, recent research suggests your wardrobe choices can also influence your productivity.

A 2012 Northwestern University study found that what people wear may influence their performance. Study participants scored higher marks on cognitive tests when they wore white jackets that resembled lab coats – those typically worn by doctors and scientists – as they tend to be “associated with attentiveness and carefulness.” However, when they believed the white jacket belonged to a painter, they scored no higher than other participants.

The researchers, who published their findings in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, describe the phenomenon as “enclothed cognition,” a play on the concept of “embodied cognition,” the idea that people’s thoughts and understanding are influenced not only by the brain, but by physical experiences. Embodied cognition explains why people who carry clipboards feel powerful.

Enclothed cognition “depends on both the symbolic meaning and the physical experience of wearing the clothes,” according to the Northwestern study. For example, wearing a police uniform may produce feelings of bravery and courage, while donning a suit and tie inspires confidence.

In a similar study, Joy V. Peluchette of the University of Southern Indiana, Evansville and Katherine Karl from Marshall University noted that people felt competent when wearing suits and ties, yet seemed friendlier when they wore casual clothes.

Using Enclothed Cognition to Your Benefit

How can people make enclothed cognition work for them? That would require determining what each item means to the wearer. A person in need of a confidence boost may choose a suit that fits well and looks great.

Creatives may prefer clothes that are colorful, beautiful and inspirational. For important client meetings, choosing something understated will keep the focus on the business at hand – and not on the outfit.

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