According to a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, wearing a lab coat can actually make you better at solving problems. Authors Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky wanted to explore that nature of what they call “enclothed cognition,” the effect that the clothes we are wearing have on our psychology, through both the physical feeling of wearing them and the social meaning that we associate with those clothes.
To that end, they made a bunch of people dress up in white coats.
The first of their series of three experiments featured 58 undergraduates, half of whom wore a disposable white lab coat. (Participants were told their predecessors had worn these jackets during an earlier round of the study to protect their clothing from construction-related dust. They were asked to put on the garments so that everyone took the test under identical conditions.)
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.
Another experimental group was split into subjects that wore what they were told was a doctor’s lab coat, subjects that were told they were wearing a painter’s coat, and a third group that were merely shown a doctor’s coat and asked to write a short essay about “the specific, personal meaning such a coat has for them.”
It was found that subjects wearing a coat characterized as a doctor or scientist’s coat were better able to focus and be attentive to timed tasks, qualities that the researchers say go hand in hand with the subjects beliefs about the qualities of scientists and doctors. Subjects wearing an “artist’s” coat scored the poorest, while those that had been asked to contemplate the symbolic worth of a lab coat scored in the middle.
“The main conclusion that we can draw from the studies is that the influence of wearing a piece of clothing depends on both its symbolic meaning and the physical experience of wearing the clothes,” Adam and Galinsky write. “There seems to be something special about the physical experience of wearing a piece of clothing.”
Hmm. Does this mean that my Question cosplay could help me be better at martial arts? Now that’s a follow up study I’d like to see.