Judah Friedlander on Enclothed Cognition

Since we were kids, our parents taught us that looks don’t matter, “it’s what is on the inside that counts.” While a nice sentiment, research is showing that the way you look does matter…to you. Here’s Judah Friedlander on the effects appearance has on the wearer.

Judah Friedlander is an actor, comedian, author, and fashion maven. Besides being entertaining, he is known for his distinct look – oversized glasses, bushy sideburns, trucker hat, and t-shirt.

My hat, my T-shirt, they all have a long history…It’s not just something that I thought would look cool… There’s a lot of thought that goes into every single thing I wear.

Chances are that your look is also “on purpose.” But if you think you’re doing it for other people, think again. According to researchers Adam D. Galinsky and Hajo Adam, “the symbolic meaning of clothes, in combination with the physical experience of wearing them, influences the psychological processes of the wearer.” They call this enclothed cognition.

If this sounds confusing, maybe Galinksy and Adam’s study will clear it up. They gave participants a lab coat to wear while completing tasks. The members of one group were told that the coat was a doctor’s coat. The other group, who were give the exact same coat, were told that it was a painter’s coat. Those who believed they were wearing the doctor’s coat carried out the tasks more effectively.

Judah has been living enclothed cognition for over twenty years. His shtick is to mockingly declare himself the world champion of everything. You name the topic and he can improvise a half hour on how he is the best at it. He even has a book, How to Beat Up Anybody, on the subject. To get into the part, Judah has plotted out his wardrobe.

My shirt and my hat always say World Champion in some language. English, Spanish, Chinese, ‘Star Wars’ language…

For leaders, we need to consider how our organization’s dress standards affect productivity and project the image we are striving to promote. It is true that there are studies showing a more lax dress code has a positive effect on employee morale. But there are contradictory studies saying that the effects are short-lived and minimal, at best. And there’s a third grouping of research stating that any effect of more casual dress is really the result of the organization’s culture, not the clothes themselves.

While the effects on morale are uncertain, Galinksy and Adam’s study shows that there is a direct correlation between what you wear and your performance. People typically take on the characteristics associated with whatever they are wearing. Discerning your work self from your weekend self may help put you in a work frame of mind. You may feel more confident and exude a sense of confidence to those around you.

So maybe your lucky tie really does bring luck. And your new shoes really do make you more assured. We don’t all need to wear a hat that says World Champion to feel like one…but it can’t hurt.

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