As a psychology teacher I know that our mental state has a huge impact on what we can achieve. Henry Ford, the inventor of the Model T famously said "If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right". Always believe that you can achieve is not a slogan at Minsthorpe; it is a mindset. Given this, I was fascinated by the publication of a study carried out at the University of Hertfordshire this week on the impact of clothing on thinking. Clothing affects our mental processes and perceptions and this can change our minds and the way we think, according to the author of the research, Professor Karen Pine.
When she asked students to put on a Superman t-shirt there was a scientific reason behind the request. Professor Pine wanted to know if the heroic clothing would change the students’ thinking. She found it boosted their impression of themselves and made them feel physically stronger. Women when given a maths test performed less well dressed in a swimsuit than when wearing a jumper. Other research suggests that women are more likely to wear jeans when they are depressed and, when stressed, wear less of their wardrobe, neglecting 90% of it – suggesting that the main reason women dress up is not to look attractive but to feel confident. Men tend to have a smaller wardrobe so the colour of what they wear is more of an indicator of their emotional state.
This link between clothes and thinking makes a lot of sense and what we wear often has cognitive, social and emotional consequences. This idea is called enclothed cognition. Look at how we are more likely to obey someone wearing a uniform or how we dress when we go for an interview. When we are feeling down we tend to wear jeans, baggy tops, hoodies, sweatshirts or jumpers. Think how easy it is to wear these outfits in the winter – making us doubly SAD (pun intended)! If there is a link between mood and clothes then perhaps we can learn from this study and deliberately wear clothes that we associate with being bright and happy – even when we feel exactly the opposite. Dressing should never just be about function – it also needs to be about adornment and fun.
For me, the study makes sense and I think that there is a real connection between clothing and mood. The science of happiness has found that we have ‘positive interventions’ that can change our mood, and when we deliberately intervene on our happiness by wearing things that evoke positive feelings, create positive reactions from others, or that remind us of positive experiences, then we will be happier.
Try it – if nothing else you will at least look good!