If you wear a white coat that you believe belongs to a doctor, your ability to pay attention increases sharply. But if you wear the same white coat believing it belongs to a painter, you will show no such improvement.
In my previous psych post, I wrote about how thoughts can influence actions, namely the correlation between body perception and eventual weight. For this article, it talks about enclothed cognition, how what you wear and what you think you are wearing, can influence psychological processes.
Maybe that's why it is easier for people to feel more confident in smart attire, feel more sexy in revealing attire, or feel more like a vampire in vampire wear at Halloween etc. The clothes have symbolic meaning attached, and these symbolic meanings can influence our psychological processes.
To test this idea, researchers Adam and Galinsky got together 58 undergraduates in an initial study, with half of them wearing disposable lab coats. Selective attention was measured by a Stroop task, the classic test in which participants are instructed to name the color of a word flashed on a computer screen, while ignoring the word itself.
An example of a Stroop Test
In the experiments they conducted (they did a total of 3), it was found that priming alone (just seeing the coat) was not enough, you had to be physically wearing it and knowing the symbolic meaning attached.
Now I wonder, if I start associating my clothes with 'studious' and 'hardworking' and 'determined', or starting wearing studious/nerdy clothing, will I start getting better grades... Or does/can the effect wear off?
As with all studies, take the results with a pinch of salt. The benchmark for statistical significance is somewhat arbitrarily defined, after all. In addition, effect size (how much is the increase in attention) is not known. It is quite unlikely a person will become 200% more attentive once he dons a lab coat associated with a doctor.
You can view the original article on ScienceDirect, but you will need to pay $31.50 D: But all is not lost, you can read a well summarised version on The New York Times here.