Dress for the task: the “Lab Coat” effect

Consider the findings of a study published last year by the Kellogg School of Management. They showed that students were far more accurate on tests of attentional focus and sustained concentration while wearing the white lab coat of a scientist. Crucially, spending time thinking about the lab coat didn’t have this benefit, it had to be worn.

These results suggest that donning symbolic apparel can alter our thinking style in beneficial ways that are consistent with the meaning that the clothing holds for us. So whatever project you’re currently working on, consider dressing for that role. Think what clothing symbolizes the attributes you need to succeed and wear those threads while you work. If there’s nothing as obvious as a lab coat, why not look to role models in your field and see what they wear – perhaps something flamboyant for when you want to be creative, a shirt and tie for when you’re working on the accounts. The important thing is that the clothing has the right symbolic meaning for the work you’re doing. In the study, the white coat had no attentional benefits when the students thought it was a painter’s jacket, not a scientist’s coat.

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