Enclothed Cognition: How Clothes Affect the Mood and Behavior

hanging clothes

Clothes are one of the basic needs of people, along with food, water, and shelter. But more than its basic functions of cover and protection from the elements, the clothes we wear also have a different function.

Clothes Make the Man

Famous writer and humorist Mark Twain, once wrote “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” And while we place so much emphasis on not judging people based on their appearances, clothes have a way of affecting not just the way people see us but also our mood and behavior.

For instance, a lot of pieces of clothing carry with them some symbolic meaning. A judge’s robe stands for justice. An expensive suit symbolizes power. A policeman’s uniform signifies authority.

A few years ago, researchers from Northwestern University concluded that what you wear influences your ability to think and perform. In what was known as the Lab Coat Study, two groups of people were given lab coats to perform a specific set of tasks. One group was informed that the coat was a doctor’s; the other group was told it belongs to a painter.

After the tests were done, it was found that the group who believed their coats are doctors coats took on the typical qualities of a doctor, thus enabling them to perform with more precision and focus.

This psychological effect that the clothes have on the wearer’s behavior and thinking is called enclothed cognition. This means that whatever article of clothing you wear — robes, coats, suits, onesies, PPE, masks, goggles, plastic bracelets, boots, tactical pants — can affect your thoughts and actions.

A similar study in 2012 conducted by the University of Hertfordshire found that clothing reflects the wearer’s moods. Many of the women who participated in the study believe that they can alter their mood by their clothes.

We have listed several ways backed by science on how clothes affect your mood.

10 Ways That Clothes Can Affect a Person’s Mood

man wearing a tie

  1. It can make you feel powerful.

The research was done with a group of people to challenge their cognitive skills. They were to complete five experiments in formal business suits. It was found that those who dressed up more felt more powerful and in control compared to those who were underdressed.

  1. It can make you quick-witted.

Aside from making you feel powerful and in control, the same study also found that those who were better dressed for the part were more creative and thought up solutions faster than the others.

  1. It can make you want to exercise.

You can’t motivate yourself to work out if you’re not wearing the proper exercise outfit, no matter what excuse you say. If you want to build the habit of exercising, start wearing your workout clothes to get you started. You’ll feel the need to work out once you’ve already put them on.

  1. It can motivate you to work harder on your workouts.

Depending on your workout clothes, your attitude towards working out also shifts. Those who invest in more appropriate — but not necessarily expensive — workout clothes tend to outperform those who wear their old college tracksuits in the gym.

  1. It can give you more focus on a task at hand.

When it comes to a lot of jobs, the ability to focus on your tasks despite the distractions around you — or if your work is pretty boring — is pretty challenging. As already mentioned above, the Lab Coat Study showed that those who believed their coats to be doctor’s coats allowed them to stay focused throughout the whole exercise.

  1. It can make you get away with some stuff.

This one is mainly for those negotiating for better deals, perhaps over a house contract or a car price. It is found that between people who put on business suits, those who wore sweatpants, and those who were allowed to wear whatever they wanted, those who appeared more professional were more confident and unwavering during negotiations.

  1. It can make you feel smarter.

According to one study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, wearing clothes associated with intelligence, such as a doctor’s coat, a judge’s robe, or a pilot’s uniform, makes one feel and act smarter.

Ultimately, your mood can be changed based on the clothes you wear. In most cases, people dress up the way they want to feel. If they’re feeling a bit insecure, one way to counter the feeling is to dress sharply. If people feel down and want some semblance of happiness, they dress up in clothes that make them feel good.

Now that you have a better idea about how clothes work on your psyche, put that knowledge to good use. Use clothes that will help you perform better and make you feel good about yourself.

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