Cover up

Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough - - EXPRESS CLASSIFIED INDEX -

Does what you wear af­fect how well you work? Quite pos­si­bly. We’ve all had the ex­pe­ri­ence of feel­ing more mo­ti­vated and fo­cused when we’re dressed up for work – whether that means don­ning a suit when our usual of­fice dress is khakis and a golf shirt or, for those who work from home, sim­ply get­ting out of py­ja­mas. But new re­search shows that wear­ing cer­tain items of cloth­ing iden­ti­fied with cer­tain qual­i­ties could help im­prove per­for­mance, too.

A re­cently pub­lished study from pro­fes­sors at North­west­ern Univer­sity, in Illi­nois in the United States, shows that when re­search sub­jects wore a sci­en­tist’s or med­i­cal doc­tor’s white coat, they per­formed bet­ter on what’s known as the Stroop test, which asks par­tic­i­pants to say the colour of a word be­ing shown on a flash­card, rather than the word it­self. The group who donned white jack­ets iden­ti­fied as lab coats per­formed bet­ter on con­flict­ing flash cards, such as when the word ‘‘blue’’ is spelled in red let­ters. Those wear­ing the lab coats, which peo­ple typ­i­cally as­so­ci­ate with care and at­ten­tive­ness, made about half as many er­rors as their peers.

The re­searchers, Adam Galin­sky and Hajo Adam, call their pa­per ‘‘En­clothed cog­ni­tion’’, a play on the term ‘‘em­bod­ied cog­ni­tion’’, the idea that bod­ily sen­sa­tions can af­fect how we think and how we feel. For ex­am­ple, a 2010 study found that body po­si­tions we think of as pow­er­ful (such as stand­ing and lean­ing over a ta­ble or pump­ing out your chest) make peo­ple act more con­fi­dent and even raise testos­terone lev­els in the body.

In­ter­est­ingly, the study sub­jects who wore sim­i­lar white coats but were told they were artists’ coats did not per­form above av­er­age. As a re­sult, Galin­sky says their find­ings show that it’s not just the ex­pe­ri­ence of wear­ing the clothes, but the sym­bolic mean­ing they hold for peo­ple.

The find­ings led to ques­tions about whether wear­ing the robes of a priest or a judge could prompt peo­ple to act more eth­i­cally, or whether putting on a fire­fighter’s coat could in­voke courage.

And what about suits and ties? ‘‘If you as­so­ci­ate those clothes with power and con­fi­dence, it’s go­ing to have a huge im­pact,’’ he says.

‘‘But for some peo­ple, wear­ing suits makes them feel like a phony. So it’s re­ally about what the sym­bolic mean­ing of the clothes is to the per­son.’’

Clothes may not make the man, the say­ing goes. But as the au­thors write, ‘‘they do hold a strange power over their wear­ers’’.

Photo: REUTERS

Suc­cess dress: Wear­ing a sci­en­tist’s or doc­tor’s white coat made a dif­fer­ence to the way peo­ple per­formed in a test, re­searchers found.

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