Those who need to ponder deeply or focus on a task that requires cognitive skills are advised to "put their thinking caps on." However, a study suggests that this cliché is referring to the wrong garment. Instead, try wearing your "thinking lab coats" on.
A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology reveals that medical lab coats can make a person smarter - as long as the wearer knows that the coat is for medical or scientific use. The study entitled "Enclothed Cognition," was conducted by two professors from Northwestern University - Adam Galinsky and Hajo Adam. It explores the cognitive effects of wearing a medical lab coat
In the first experiment, the authors asked 58 students and distributed half of them with disposable medical white lab coats, which were not described as lab coats. The students were told that the garments were used for protection against construction dust, and they should wear them for uniformity purposes.
Even without the knowledge that the garments were medical lab coats, wearing them have apparent effects in boosting mental prowess. Galinsky and Adam conducted a Stroop task, a test wherein the subjects are asked to look at words for colors, but written in a different color. For example, the word yellow is written in blue font. The students in lab coats scored higher compared to the subjects who didn't wear lab coats during the test.
However, the second experiment suggests that the ability of a simple medical uniform can be enhanced or disrupted with only a few words. For the succeeding experiment, the researchers gathered 99 volunteer subjects. They also distributed similar lab coats to 2/3 of the subjects with half of them being told that the garments are doctor lab coats while the other half were made believe that the garments were used by painters. The remaining subjects didn't wear any lab coat, but were asked to look at a white coat placed on a table, and were told it was a lab coat used by a medical professional. These subjects were then asked to write a brief essay about their personal insights about laboratory coats.
Then, the volunteers were asked to undergo image search test, in which they were asked to identify four differences between identical pictures. Those who know that they were wearing doctors' lab coats identified more differences compared to those who believe that they were wearing artists' coats. Meanwhile, volunteers who had seen the lab coat and wrote the essay scored in the middle.
Galinsky and Adam believe that concentrating on the experience of white medical lab coat endow the wearer the ability to focus more. The authors concluded: " There seems to be something special about the physical experience of wearing a piece of clothing."