Support the Café

Search our Site

Clothes and self perception

Clothes and self perception

The New York Times reports on the phenomenon of “embodied cognition.”

If you wear a white coat that you believe belongs to a doctor, your ability to pay attention increases sharply. But if you wear the same white coat believing it belongs to a painter, you will show no such improvement.

So scientists report after studying a phenomenon they call enclothed cognition: the effects of clothing on cognitive processes.

It is not enough to see a doctor’s coat hanging in your doorway, said Adam D. Galinsky, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, who led the study. The effect occurs only if you actually wear the coat and know its symbolic meaning — that physicians tend to be careful, rigorous and good at paying attention.

The findings, on the Web site of The Journal of Experimental Social Cognition, are a twist on a growing scientific field called embodied cognition. We think not just with our brains but with our bodies, Dr. Galinsky said, and our thought processes are based on physical experiences that set off associated abstract concepts. Now it appears that those experiences include the clothes we wear.

Clothes invade the body and brain, putting the wearer into a different psychological state, he said. He described his own experience from last Halloween (or maybe it should be called National Enclothed Cognition Day).


But what happens, he mused, if you wear [the] clothes every day? Or a priest’s robes? Or a police officer’s uniform? Do you become habituated so that cognitive changes do not occur? Do the effects wear off?

What do you think – do you change when wearing vestments? a collar? casual clothes? Do others’ perceptions of you change?

h/t to Peace Bang whose blog is devoted to the effects of appearance in ministerial work.


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Gia Hayes-Martin

Here in an aggressively secular part of the country, my being a woman in clericals defies popular negative stereotypes of Christianity. I’m clearly not a conservative-evangelical pastor or a Catholic priest, and because I represent something different, people are willing to approach me. I get asked for directions, prayer, blessings, etc. all the time, which rarely happens to my (male) boss. No one has ever thought I’m a nun.

Ann Fontaine

Bill- it might surprise you that women wearing clerical collars do not get the reaction that men usually get. If people notice at all – they think it is part of the outfit (not clergy) – or that you are nun.

Bill Dilworth

About others’ perceptions: I was an observant Jew for about five years, and for much of that time wore a kippa (yarmulke) all the time. In public I noticed that for some people it represented something like a Boy Scout uniform – it identified me as someone it was probably safe to approach. I think wearing it resulted in a lot more requests for help with directions, the current time, and so forth than without it. Some nasty looks, sometimes, too, but not as many as you might think. I imagine the effect is multiplied a hundredfold with a clerical collar.

Jean Lall

This made me think of Audrey Hepburn, who was once asked by an interviewer about her technique as an actor. She replied (I’m paraphrasing from memory), “Oh, I have no technique; I wasn’t trained as an actor, but as a dancer. What I find is that once I am in costume, I know what to do. I know who the character is and how to play her.”

No doubt it helped that she had people like Edith Head doing her wardrobe! Still, I took her remarks to heart. Whatever role I have to play on a given day, I try to “dress the part”, and I find that it helps me to get into character and perform more effectively. No doubt it also affects how others perceive me.

Richard E. Helmer

The other half of the equation is how others perceive me based on my “uniform”. That can be just as important and even more surprising!

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café