Clothing and Cognitive Consequences

Does wearing expert clothing give children a greater push?

My daughter attended a chess competition recently at a neighbouring city school and this gave me the chance to go along and squirrel some ideas and do a bit of ‘magpieing’. It’s amazing what you can learn just walking through a place!

One of the other pupils she played was wearing a top announcing him as a ‘Digital Ambassador’ and he walked around with a fair degree of pride and authority.

I assumed he was either very good at computing or his teachers were using him as a surrogate technician to cover up their own lack of skills.

Either way, he was labelled as some sort of champion.

This got me thinking whether giving a child a visible position imbued them with greater powers in the same way as dressing up as Batman does for younger children?

Professor of Psychology, Karen Pine, suggests clothing can change who we are, how we think and how we feel and so we should never underestimate its power. She asked students in groups to wear Superman clothing and found they were more confident both mentally and physically. Does the way we dress change the way we feel? In an interview with Fotini Mastroianni, Karen said,

It does so in many ways. We internalize the characteristics associated with a piece of clothing, this is called enclothed cognition. So, when we dress smarter we actually think smarter. Clothes have other associations too, such as memory, and this can affect our mood as can the colour and texture of the fabrics we put onto our body. What we wear can lift our mood or drag us down, so we should choose carefully as this could affect how our whole day pans out.

Head of History, Mr Bajkowski‏ @BajkowskiMr  posted a photo of a couple of students wearing armbands saying, shared on Twitter that,

“Captain’s armband give students greater sense of authority when marshalling their groups preparation to debate whether it was right to execute Charles I”

Adopting the persona of an expert using clothing adds another layer to our identities and can give us the feeling of being someone different or someone more knowledgeable. You are what you wear and some clothing can help us feel more rational and competent.

Clothing and accessories can give us confidence and so giving children a special T-shirt, sweatshirt, armband, hat, lanyard etc can help extend their skills, give them more responsibility and turn them into different sorts of learners.

It can also set them apart and make them appear exclusive so we have to be careful that we don’t create divisions. Clothing can set us apart and make us look distinctive but we don’t want apartheid and an “I’m better than you” feeling. Clothing can be hugely symbolic of perceived class or rank.

So can clothing follow suit in line with Dorothy Heathcote’s ‘Mantle of the Expert‘ and give children an edge, a feeling of confidence, a position and responsibility?

Wearing a certain garment can help develop qualities within and can influence self-perception. If a hat or a T-shirt showcasing a particular status can make children feel different then we need to think carefully what we give children to wear. It could help them focus and assume a more powerful identity.

As Slepian et al (2015) have found, there are definite cognitive consequences to what we wear and we too, as teachers need to consider how we feel when we put on our ‘teacher clothes’.

Barbara Fredrickson (1998) gave a maths test to groups of women and men who wore either a swimsuit or a sweater, she showed that wearing a swimsuit diminished a woman’s maths performance). What we wear can actually change the way our brains function!

The psychology of fashion has a powerful influence on all of us.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: