What is “Enclothed Cognition?”
In July 2012, the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology introduced a term that we find fascinating and helpful: “enclothed cognition.” We’re excited to share this find with you!
In our industry, we pay attention to how clothing affects the way we carry ourselves and how we’re perceived. As such, it delighted us to come across academic work whose findings confirm the advice we share with our clients – that what you choose to wear can and will affect how you perform.
Defining Enclothed Cognition
“Enclothed cognition” refers to the systematic influence that clothing has on the wearer’s psychological processes. Specifically, this means paying attention to things (more on that in the next section).
For those who appreciate the transformative power of a well-managed image, this is essentially a formality that gives a proper name to what they already know. In fact, Deion Sanders hit on this concept when he said, “When you look good you feel good. When you feel good, you play good. When you play good, they pay good.”
It’s not just the clothes that you wear, though. Let’s look at the details of the study to explore this more deeply.
The Study’s Details
First, the study deals with two types of attention: selective and sustained.
Selective attention is the ability to select one thing to focus on in the midst of various stimuli. Sustained attention is the ability to focus on one specific task for a continuous period of time without getting distracted.
Second, there are actually two factors at play in these studies. The symbolic meaning of the clothes is one, and the physical experience of wearing them is the other.
These studies centered around a lab coat. A pretest determined that lab coats, unsurprisingly, have an association with being attentive and careful. The hypothesis, then, was that wearing a lab coat would increase a subject’s attentiveness.
Three experiments took place. In the first, the physical act of wearing a lab coat increased selective attention compared to not wearing one. In a nutshell, this study suggested that wearing a lab coat decreased a person’s susceptibility to distractions.
The second and third experiments had a slightly different focus. Wearing a lab coat that was described as a doctor’s coat increased sustained attention. This was compared to wearing the coat when described as a painter’s coat, which didn’t produce an increase in sustained attention. It was also compared to simply seeing (not wearing) the lab coat when described as a doctor’s coat, which also didn’t produce an increase in sustained attention.
These last two studies suggest that, when you’re wearing something you think is a doctor’s coat, your brain can focus on a task for longer periods of time.
Wear The Right Clothes, Make The Right Moves
As image consultants, the takeaway from all this is simple: wearing the proper clothes for a job will have positive effects on your ability to focus.
Our friend Chef Jeff Henderson always says, “See it, be it.” It’s so much a part of his DNA, he makes it a hashtag on nearly every one of his Instagram posts (and you should follow him). We couldn’t think of a better way to summarize what these studies suggest. We tend to manifest what we see in ourselves. If you see yourself as a potential success, you’ll be one. The same goes for failure and everything in between.
As image consultants, we’ve always believed (and these studies reinforce) that the clothes you wear have a real impact on how you feel and perform. This affects how you present yourself, which in turn affects how others perceive you. This isn’t to say that you need to be wearing a bespoke suit every day, but you should be wearing clothes that uplift and empower you and make you feel your best. Custom jeans and custom sweaters are still casual, but they’ll make you feel and perform better than athletic shorts and an undershirt.
Dressing for a task or a job isn’t dissimilar to dressing for an occasion. If you do it well, you might not be fully aware of its impact. This is because so much of this lives in the subconscious levels of our brain. If you’re not dressed appropriately, though, things suddenly become very noticeable.
In the new (ab)normal that has many of us working from home, the findings these studies suggest are helpful. Put some thought into what you wear when you work from home, even if you’re only seeing the business end of a computer that day. If you need help figuring out what this means for you, we’re here. Call us at 215-310-0219 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you.