The White Coat Effect

Invisibilia Podcast “The Secret Emotional Life of Clothes”

Podcasts are a great way to stay up to date on news stories and learn about things you never thought about before. They are ideal for listening to during a commute, or while doing tedious household chores. Listening to a podcast is the first thing I do every morning, as it wakes my brain up and stimulates thinking as soon as I wake up, preparing me better to take on the day.

One of my favorite podcasts is NPR’s Invisibilia, which tells stories “about the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.” These stories are often things you probably never even thought about before, and it prompts you to look at the world in a different way.

Recently, Invisibilia featured an episode entitled “The Secret Emotional Life Of Clothes”, which explores 7 different stories to examine how what we wear affects us more than we might think. The most poignant story, in my opinion, was their analysis of the theory of “enclothed cognition“, based upon a study in which participants were asked to complete a simple stroop test.

Some participants completed the test in their regular clothes, while others were asked to complete the test while wearing a white doctors coat. The study found that on average, participants wearing a white lab coat made fewer than half of the errors made by the other study group.

Interestingly, some participants were also asked to complete the test while wearing a white coat, but were told that it was a painter’s coat rather than a doctor’s coat. In these cases, participants also were not as accurate as those who believed they were wearing a white doctor’s coat.

This is an interesting exploration of how feeling like you are dressed professionally gives you more confidence and actually enables you to perform better intellectually. It is surprising that the simple act of putting on a white doctor’s lab coat would actually make you perform better on a test, but the proof is in the pudding.

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