a baby wraped up in many pieces of clothing

Embodied and Enclothed Cognition

How many of you are as addicted to David McRaney’s work as I am? For the uninitiated, he is the author of the bestselling You Are Not So Smart and recently wrote the sequel You Are Now Less Dumb. He also has a great podcast. I am sorry if this seems like an ad for his work, but I am not alone. Brain Pickings (which you should definitely be reading!) has raved about his ideas several times this year.

But a recent post is actually about another researcher that I heard about on his podcast this month. Hajo Adam is a researcher in the management department at Rice University. The interview focused on his work on enclothed cognition. This is similar to embodied cognition, but specifically looks at how wearing certain clothing changes the way you think, feel, and act. The traditional clothing-psychology link looks at how someone’s attire influences the way others treat them. But as with embodied cognition, enclothed cognition looks at how it affects the wearer.

If you are familiar with my interests, you know that I am fascinated with priming. Enclothed cognition is kind of like priming on steroids because the physical presence of the clothing intensifies the priming effect. I only know this because Dr. Adam uses priming as a control in some of his studies.

Here is one example that stands out. Imagine the standard white lab coat (that he uses because they are so generic and you can buy them in bulk). He creates several conditions. The base control is no lab coat. The priming condition is the lab coat hung up in clear view of the participant. A stronger prime has the lab coat on the desk right in front of the participant. In one experimental condition the participant is told to wear it and that it is a painter’s coat. In the active experimental condition, the participant is told to wear it and that it is a doctor’s coat. The participants are given a test that requires some cognitive abilities. The participants wearing a “doctor’s coat” do significantly better. Just as female participants who are primed to think of their gender just before a math test do worse or Asian participants who are primed to think of their race do better. But the effect is larger than the priming control when they are actually wearing the evidence.

He cites several examples from other researchers in this area that find similar findings in field studies. One that really struck me is that struggling elementary students who were given lab coats to wear in school did better academically. This is a tough crowd to influence and it is a pretty cheap intervention.

It makes me think of so many personal experiences. When I go to work in a tie, I seem to be more productive – but I never did a controlled study. When I have my favorite socks on, my confidence seems to go up.

But there are also some other implications. Do we get rid of casual Fridays? Or do we reframe it is “Creativity Fridays” and have people where their most creativity-inducing casual clothes and schedule our brainstorming sessions for Fridays. It could work…

What other ideas can you think of to leverage enclothed cognition? I am very interested to hear what you come up with.

Image credit: “warm enough?” by Andrew Vargas used under CC BY 2.0

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