Does what we wear make us smarter? Researchers at Northwestern University have coined the term enclothed cognition after conducting an experiment and concluding that our clothing can influence our psychological processes. What’s interesting is how this could affect the laboratory in a hospital setting.
The researchers, Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky, conducted three studies measuring cognitive attention and agility. In the first study one group wore white lab coats and the second street clothes. The group wearing the white lab coat made half as many errors. In the second study the groups were asked to wear either a doctor’s white coat or a painter’s smock that were identical coats; the first group performed better. And finally, two groups were asked to simply look at coats identified as a doctor’s or painter’s and write an essay about what they thought about them, again with similar findings.
Adam and Galinsky concluded: “the current research suggests a basic principle of enclothed cognition—it depends on both the symbolic meaning and the physical experience of wearing the clothes.” Wearing a lab coat makes us smarter, in other words.
Doctors are thought of as intelligent, agile thinkers able to rationally sort out problems under pressure as depicted in television shows like ER and Grey’s Anatomy. They are trained to be precise, data-driven professionals. By contrast, painters are unconventional thinkers who don’t rely on data and precision to make decisions. Apparently, what we believe about these roles and our association with what they wear influences our own performance.
This idea of “enclothed cognition” can be used to our advantage. We can dress the role for an interview, management position, presentation before the board of directors, or an encounter with a patient. If the above study is correct, then wearing a lab coat at the bench could improve attentiveness and cognitive performance in daily lab work.
I wonder. Do lab techs who wear white lab coats make fewer errors? I can imagine this is possible with new techs, but I’d hesitate to make any conclusions about experienced professionals. I’d have to put on my coat and examine more data.
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