Look the part: The cognitive impact of dressing well

Look the part: The cognitive impact of dressing well

In the immortal words of “How I Met Your Mother” character Barney Stinson, “nothing suits me like a suit.” No longer just a fashion statement, psychologists have recently discovered that dressing formally can positively impact a man’s style of thinking.


During recent studies conducted at California State University – Northridge, researchers noticed a distinction in thinking style based on the outfit of an individual. Cognitive tests were performed on a group of students; half of them dressed in casual wear, and the other half dressed in suits. The results separated students into abstract thinkers and concrete thinkers.


These two styles of thinking are diametrically opposed to one another. Concrete thinkers tend to take things at face value and do not process stimuli beyond what they can see. Abstract thinkers process the world in a more critical manner and look for deeper meanings.


Barney Stintson meme saying "Keep Calm and Suit Up"

“How I Met Your Mother” character Barney Stinson famous for his motto, “Suit up!” (pinterest.com)

For example, if concrete and abstract thinkers both were to look at a painting, each perception would be different. The concrete thinker will see it merely as a painting, while the abstract thinker might analyze the underlying meaning of the piece, what it represents, what it means to that painter, etc.


In a workplace setting, increased abstract thinking can prove beneficial in reception of feedback, problem solving, and numerous other essential skills. The researchers who conducted the study also believe that wearing a suit has evolved into a symbol of power.


The understanding of this type of psychology is still relatively limited but not without credence. The Atlantic cited a 2012 study in which people displayed more attentiveness when they were wearing a white coat they believed belonged to a doctor, as opposed to those who believed the coat belonged to a painter. It’s not the clothing itself, but the underlying symbolism that matters.


What do you think of this study? Do you feel powerful “suiting up” in the office? Comment below or tweet @connerws to tell us what you think!

Conner Schwerdtfeger

A recent graduate from Chapman University, Conner aspires to tell stories that not only engage, but inform and inspire readers around the world. Growing up in the highly active culture of San Diego, he has a passion for adventure and is always looking for new and interesting experiences. Fun is the name of the game, and he holds firm to the idea that a day without laughter is a day wasted. He has a passion for fitness, and when not at his desk can most likely be found hiking or swimming. He reports on a wide variety of topics for MUIPR, with an emphasis on entertainment and current events. Follow on Twitter @connerws.

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