In the recent study Mind What You Wear: The Psychology of Fashion, university professor Karen Pine states that clothes change the way we think and feel. When a group of university students were dressed up in Superman T-shirts, this boosted their impression of themselves and made them believe they were physically stronger than control groups. Her findings prompted us to question what the superheroes in dentistry do to make a strong and reliable impact on their students, patients or audiences. Does the secret lie just in their expertise, or do their clothes have anything to do with it?
Every day we pull something from the wardrobe, or try on something in a store, that has life-changing potential. The suit that subliminally convinces an interviewer that we are perfect for the job. The swimsuit that can strip us of our intellectual powers. This was a startling discovery in early studies – that what we wear can actually change the way our brains function. Later, researchers at Northwestern University verified this concept by showing that putting on a white coat improved a person’s mental agility. By associating the white coat with a doctor, the brain was primed to take on different mental capacities and students even made quicker decisions and fewer mistakes when wearing white lab coats.
The outfit could trick your mind
It is intuitive to think of clothing as mere covering, or the means by which we project our image to other people. Studies of cognition have shown that clothes can influence the wearer too, affecting their thought processes and influencing their mood. For instance, when hospital patients are forced to wear that shapeless, pale gown resembling a baby’s wrap that opens at the back, most feel docile, trusting and helpless. Then there’s that sense of de-individuation, or anonymity that comes from slipping into a uniform, or the power surge that accompanies the wearing of a sharp suit.
When wearing a Superman T-shirt, Professor Pine’s students rated themselves as more likeable and superior to other students. When asked to estimate how much they could physically lift, those in a Superman T-shirt thought they were stronger than students in a similar T-shirt without the Superman logo or when they were in their own clothing. Through her research, Pine reveals how people’s mental processes and perceptions can be primed by clothing, as they internalize the symbolic meaning of their outer layers. She claims that the right clothes make us feel happier and more confident, and now it’s confirmed that not only are we what we wear, we can actually become what we wear.
Read more about Karen Pine’s research here Mind What You Wear: The Psychology of Fashion.