Science Says You Can Think Better If You Dress Better

Andre began wearing suits in high school.  He now wears them everyday of the week, even in his own home when alone.  Currently, he is in a very powerful position as an editor.  He is 21.

Ask Andre why we wears the suit and you'll hear the same response everyone has heard, "I feel more powerful and in control.  People take me more seriously and I think better."

I've always thought he was crazy.  

However, a recent article in The Atlantic got me thinking that Andre was onto something.

The article describes the work of Abraham Rutchick, a psychologist at California State University and led me into the rabbit hole that is the internet.  I dug myself out with three strange, but potentially important implications for education.

Keep reading to learn how we can use clothes to increase teacher and student effectiveness.

From The Atlantic:
"wearing a suit encourages people to use abstract processing more readily than concrete processing"
Abstract processing... concrete processing?

When people process information abstractly, they prioritize big picture themes.  They combine stimuli in patterns to extract the gist of whats happening.  Considered a holistic approach to organizing information, abstract processing is generally thought superior to concrete processing when learning.  Where concrete processing involves "surface" analysis, abstract process considers the issue at a deeper, more thoughtful level.

We'd like to process information at a deeper level, and psychology says we can begin to do this if we dress formally.  Check out the article by Rutchick for the details.


Good question, they are still trying to figure that out.

In another similar article, researchers found that clothing can not only be used to increase abstract reasoning, but also increase performance on tasks that require extended attention.  They coined the phrase "Enclothed Cognition."  In the most interesting of three discussed studies cited in the article, the authors took two groups of students and told them to wear a white coat.  To one group, they told to participants the white coat was a doctors coat.  To the other, they told the white coat was a painters coat.  Then, from
"Each group was then asked perform 4 visual search tasks. In each, they looked at a pair of similar pictures to spot four minor differences, writing each difference down as quickly as possible. The participants wearing the doctor’s coat found more differences than those wearing the painter’s coat or primed to look at the doctor’s coat. This indicated heightened attention." 
The participants wearing the white doctors coat paid more attention.

Another article on clothing and psychology can be found here.  This one introduces the Enclothed Cognition Theory which describes the influence of clothing on cognition.  Here's the New York Times describing the theory.

This phenomena seems to be an emerging psychological idea.  Dress the way you want to feel might be a method of therapy in the future.

Maybe what's on the outside helps create whats on the inside.

Below are three implications and comments that the Pragmatic TV Teacher listed on his thought process white-board next to his desk:

1.  Maybe schools that implement dress codes are on to something?

If we want our students to think at a deeper level, ask them to dress formally.  This article states that the effect doesn't seem to wear off.  In other words, dressing formally everyday has the same effect as dressing formally every once-in-awhile.

2.  Encourage new and struggling teachers to dress formally.

Taking a mental inventory of how the teachers dress in my building, it seems that the more effective teachers consistently dress well.  If dressing powerful makes you feel more powerful, we should encourage new and struggling teachers to dress formally as a quick boost to their confidence; not to mention increase their ability to process information at a deeper level.  Read more here about body language and teaching.

3.  Being thoughtful and thinking deeply are useful characteristics while taking a test.

With the increased attention being paid to tests, can we help students by asking them to dress formally?  Will this make them feel more in control, boost their confidence, and help them think more deeply during an assessment?

I'm willing to test this idea with a little action research.  I'm offering extra credit to students who dress formally while taking my assessments.  I'll collect data an analyze the results.  I'll report them on this blog.

Improving education requires connections to be made.  The Pragmatic TV teacher acknowledges that the clothes-education connection is fuzzy, but if it can help, isn't it worth pursuing?

Thanks for reading.

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