How the clothes you wear change your perceptions

When you work from home, do you produce better results in pajamas or professional attire? Do casual Fridays damage productivity? Does a jeans-and-T-shirt startup have an edge over its business-casual competitor? Researchers are just now getting to the bottom of questions like these. David McRaney of the You Are Not So Smart podcast explores the strange phenomenon known as "enclothed cognition."

The answers depend on the symbolic power the particular item of clothing has in the mind of the particular wearer, but the answer to each question is never “not at all.”

Up until now, most psychological investigations into clothing have dealt with how clothes communicate status or facilitate rituals. For instance, if you put a person in a police uniform and have them ask questions or make demands you’ll get completely different results than if you had the same person wear a pirate costume. But what about the person in the uniform or the costume? Are the clothes affecting his or her behavior, thoughts, judgments, and decisions? The evidence collected so far suggests that yes, the clothes we wear affect our minds in ways we never notice. In fact, it’s likely the same person in the same situation in the same clothes will behave differently depending just on the color of those clothes.

In this episode of the YANSS Podcast we explore enclothed cognition, and I interview one of the researchers who discovered the phenomenon. Hajo Adam, a professor of management and researcher at Rice University’s School of Business, explains how he and Adam Galinsky, a business professor at Columbia University, conducted the studies that showed people wearing lab coats perform better on tests of mental ability than people wearing street clothes.

After the interview, I discuss a news story about how eyewitness testimony gets progressively less reliable the farther away the eyes of the witness from the crime.

In every episode, before I read a bit of self delusion news, I taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of my new book, You Are Now Less Dumb, and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

This episode of You Are Not So Smart is brought to you by Squarespace, the all-in-one platform that makes it fast and easy to create you own professional website or online portfolio. For a free trial and ten percent off go to Squarespace.com and use the offer code LESSDUMB. And check out Jonathan Mann's Squarespace Jingle!

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Published 11:10 am Fri, Jun 6, 2014

About the Author

David McRaney is a journalist and self-described psychology nerd. He's the author of the books You Are Not So Smart and You Are Now Less Dumb. He has written for several publications, including The Atlantic and Psychology Today. He lives in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

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