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What we wear influences how we think

Every morning it's the same old routine: breakfast, get dressed, get ready, and go. We do these things without thinking because we can't imagine that our clothes could have an influence on our thoughts. However, psychologists have confirmed that the way we dress not only has an impact on the way that we are perceived by others, but also on how we perceive ourselves. The clothes don't make the man….or do they?

Numerous factors have an influence on us, including the opinions of friends, teachers and even strangers. Advertising, films and books also have an impact. But who would have thought that our clothes change the way we think! These are the results of an American study published by the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, and led by two teams, the first from Colombia University, New York, and the second from California State University.

The aim was to test the influence of a very formal outfit, such as a suit, on how our brain processes information. Indeed, the brain perceives all types of information from our surroundings and then analyzes and integrates it into thought patterns. In particular, the research focused on whether wearing formal clothing encourages abstract processing, as opposed to concrete processing. Abstract processing makes people think more broadly and holistically, whereas concrete processing is narrower and focuses on fine grain details.

The study consisted of analyzing the thought processes, either abstract or concrete, of a group of student participants. The participants were asked to dress appropriately, either for a job interview, or for class. They then answered a series of cognitive tests designed to determine their processing style. This included evaluating their own dress style and the dress style of fellow participants using a scale from 'very much less formal' to 'very much more formal'. In addition they completed a 10-item behavioral identification form, which required participants to read through several behaviors and the different ways the behavior might be identified. Finally, they were asked to consider if certain clothes could evoke feelings of social closeness or power.

The results showed that the students wearing more formal clothing demonstrated more abstract processing than those dressed in a relaxed fashion. Wearing a formal outfit also increased feelings of power for the participants.

"No matter how often you wear formal clothing, if you are wearing formal clothing, then you are likely in a context that's not the intimate, comfortable, and more socially close setting with no dress code," said Michael Slepian, study co-author and professor of management. He also added: "Thus, whether you wear formal clothing every workday, or only every wedding, my prediction is that we would find a similar influence because the clothing still feels formal in both situations." Nevertheless, he says that this effect will be accentuated "if formal clothing is only reserved for the most formal of situations."

In conclusion, our dress code not only influences our thought processes, but also changes the way that we interpret the objects, people and places around us.
Source: Slepian M.L., Ferber S.N., Gold J.M., Rutchick A.M. The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing. Soc Psychol Personal Sci. 2015 March 31 doi:10.1177/1948550615579462


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