When I feel that I need a little boost to tackle the day ahead, I reach for my lucky underwear. There’s nothing special about this particular pair of underpants—they’re your average granny panties, which is to say they roughly cover the area between my bellybutton and knee caps and came from the bargain bin at the Gap.
But they’re pretty special all the same. When I’ve worn them I’ve done a good interview, met a new friend and fallen deeply in love with the man of my dreams (that last bit was a lie, but I live in hope). Is there any merit to my belief that my underwear is lucky and that when I wear them I’m infinitely more attractive, wise and interesting than when I don’t?
The short answer: sort of.
A post on the British Psychological Society’s website Research Digest draws attention to a study by researchers in the U.S. who concluded that what we wear—i.e. the symbolic value we ascribe to clothing—can alter our thinking, and by extension our behaviour.
Researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois wanted to see how the symbolic meaning of clothing affects thinking—a phenomenon they refer to as “enclothed cognition”. To do so they put two groups of students in distinct outfits. One group wore the white lab coats that are so strongly associated with doctors and scientists, while the others wore outfits of their own choosing. Both groups were then asked to undergo tests that measured their attentiveness and perception.
Oddly, the people wearing the white lab coats were the most successful in the tests, only making half as many errors as the other group. The researchers speculate that the symbolic value of the lab coat—ie, it’s association with reason and intelligence—brings out the same qualities in the wearers.
Said the researchers: “Clothes can have profound and systematic psychological and behavioural consequences for their wearers…Although the saying goes that clothes do not make the man, our results suggest they do hold a strange power over their wearers.”