Monday, August 15, 2016
As many of you know, I often like to post on issues relating to advising students (witness my cover letter posts, the most recent of which can be found here). I also like to post from time to time on issues relating to fashion and the law (e.g., this post). And sometimes, I fuse the two in a single post. This post is one of those fusion posts.
Many of us intuitively understand that clothing affects not only the perceptions others have of us but also the perceptions we have of ourselves. Some of us may even have done research to unearth evidence that these intuitions have some empirical traction. But can what you wear affect your performance? Research provides some evidence that it can.
Researchers at Northwestern University have identified a "systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer's psychological processes" that they term "unclothed cognition." Their research, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2012, found that the attentiveness of the subjects was higher when wearing a lab coat than it was when they were not wearing a lab coat or were wearing a lab coat described as a painter's coat. The research was fairly widely reported at the time. Although the study explored the effects of wearing a lab coat, one can see how the results may also hold for people wearing other performance-linked clothing, like athletic wear or other professional clothing, including business suits. (A subsequent study on the cognitive effects of business suits can be found here. More general commentary is available here and elsewhere.)
Admittedly, the results of these studies and others like them are qualified and the research in this field is at an early stage. Having said that, as our students start interviewing for jobs and engaging in clinical practice and other experiential learning in the new semester, the possible effect of clothing on performance may be a relevant footnote for them. I admit that I am not a fan of dress codes, as a general rule. However, I may mention these studies to my students so that they can use the information in their decision-making, if they so choose.