Dressing Up the Brain: Wearing a Suit Makes You Think Differently – The Atlantic

Dressing Up the Brain: Wearing a Suit Makes You Think Differently – The Atlantic.

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

3 Responses to Dressing Up the Brain: Wearing a Suit Makes You Think Differently – The Atlantic

  1. Mark says:

    Tradition for who, anonymous? Does “tradition” have a free-floating independent existence apart from the human observing them? No, but for many people the term “tradition” is a euphemism for a romanticism. A past time where people agreed more and life was simpler and better. You know, before the Enlightenment, the Am Civil War, WWII era, telephones, smartphones, blah blah blah. When people were above average.

    In the context of this discussion, I always find it amusing that the romantics always try to pretend as if there is no tradition of informality. Only formality has an authentic claim to history. But that is false. That issue is at the heart of the difference between the New World and Old World. Americans looked at European luxury and formality as corrupt and pointless, and in may ways it was. I’m always amused that the romantic tend to act as if there were no Puritans, or more accurately by their assumptions that the Puritans were into formality. Oh well. Anyway, this same old/new dynamic played out in the American context between East and West. But remember, the Old Northwest was the land between the Great Lakes, the Mississippi, and the Ohio River. That was Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Abe Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant declared themselves Westerners, being from that region (well technically Abe was a Southerner since born in Kentucky).

    So during the CW the western armies were farmers sons who saw the eastern way as slavishly attentive to formalities. The Army of the Tennessee is the best known of the western armies. It was an army brimming with confidence led by U. S. Grant (and later Sherman’s mobile strike force that swept through the South) that consistently won and never even expected to lose. Why? They would say that the Easterners are old-school fools more interested in credentials and formalities than getting things done. Such trivialities are wasteful and ripe for exploitation by the worst human tendencies. It surprised them not at all that their commander Grant had to go East to show the East’s Army of the Potomac, whose men knew how to fight, how to win. His pulling off the feat of a Westerner leading an Eastern army, and earning their respect and being accepted, was one of the greatest political achievements of American history. It is doubtful any other man could have done it, let alone do it and win. And Grant, even in the East, always wore a private’s uniforms with his stars sewn on because it was most comfortable and rode on horseback a terrific amount as the hands-on general that he was. Right down to Appomattox where he rode in directly from the field in his mud-splattered uniform to sit down with the impeccable formally dressed Lee to finish and sign terms of surrender.

    Westerners don’t do pomp and circumstance. I skipped all of my graduation ceremonies except for high school because it was mandatory. I attend those of others if it is important to them I be there, and if not not. I don’t do formality without a reason. Now formality that means something, like a military graduation ceremony I’ll never miss and never have with anyone I know. I’m pushing people out of my way to get there, because it stands for something real that I respect. But taking a few classes doesn’t rate with me. Knowledge however does rate. That’s the way I was raised in the Midwest, the Old Northwest specifically. But the same issue plays out with the informality of Silicon Valley vs. the formality of the Eastern corridor. They saw themselves as doing things in the West that couldn’t have been done in the East because of their slavishly being bound to formality, and they were right. We could go even farther back into history into rivalries between Eastern Persia and the West where we can find similar dynamics.

    The obvious fact is that there are some things you can’t do if you observe formalities. Things you sacrifice. Life is all about tradeoffs. Everybody has to make their own choices. There is a Western tradition of informality, no matter how much the romantics wish to pretend otherwise. Reason must undergird tradition or it is not worthy of respect.

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  2. Mark says:

    All the studies I’ve seen on this make the same assumptions, and are crudely reasoned and/or buy into irrationality. If you think wearing a suit will change your outlook it will. If you think or perceive others will see you differently, then it may have a positive effect. If you think wearing a doctor’s coat assists in playing the part of a doctor in some small way, or that others will, then no doubt there will be an effect. But there could just as well be a negative correlations too, so it is telling these studies never consider that. We’re social beings, and that means imitative in very complex ways. The reality and use of role playing may be frowned upon now as unauthentic, but that is just an unfortunate bias. A bias that is part of the “ideology of intimacy”.

    So make no mistake, if you think it is a stupid idea that others would think you more analytical and abstract by wearing a doctor’s coat, or that you would, then it surely won’t. My first job was one in which I was unsure of what it would take to do a good job. So every day I’d consciously think “what would a really good X do” and do that the best I could. If wearing a certain type of clothing were a part of my perception of excellence (it wasn’t), then no doubt it would have helped me play the role of an excellent worker in that field, as I was trying to do.

    But I would say this article and these types of articles on generally on clothing, work, and formality typically fail to include realistic analysis of human rational and social nature in their account. This failure also shows itself in failing to account for the types of job where it could apply, and where it couldn’t or even correlate negatively. As such, I think they’re completely worthless. Earlier in my career I worked for a large on-site outsourcing organization in the F500 where a suit was mandatory, and even walking down the hall to the bathroom without putting on your jacket would raise eyebrows. I didn’t have a problem with it at the time, and thought it was cool in my youthful pride. I thought I’d arrived, and in some ways I guess I did. But I never thought what I wore mattered to my work, and never thought it was about that. After I left that company in a few years I’ve worn jeans and I’ve never seen or felt any positive difference by dressing formal. In fact, I tend to think of it as negative since maintaining standards in formal dress in expensive and it is constraining physically.

    I work in a department of tech nerds now and a few years ago someone tried to institute a dress code that is foreign to the nerd world for I think roughly the same fuzzy reasons given in the article. I recall Dallas Willard talking about “power dressing”, and it disturbs me that Christians won’t even consider conscience on such things and just push their beliefs down to others unthinkingly. If you think these beliefs about dress aren’t an attempt to join the ranks of “professionals” (which businessmen haven’t traditionally belong) and separate themselves from the other workers I’ve got some swampland in Florida for sale. I don’t like it. I think of myself as a technician or a tradesman, and think I think the overuse of the term “professional” is pretentious and misguided. Anyway, I protested to no avail. But respecting the dress code didn’t last very long anyway since I guess after awhile realized that it was just unpopular and difficult to impose on a tech crowd, and those who don’t like it just ignore it now. Which is pretty much everyone except the true believers from the start. I think it’s absurd for Christians to knee-jerkedly assume such things are true. Go to Silicon Valley and ask a software developer if he believes this. They’d all laugh. Ask who the best ones are and see how they dress. It all depends on the type of work, the person, and the social environment.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    I’m glad science can put its all important stamp of approval on the commonsense knowledge of tradition and experience, conveyed by testimony for countless generations.

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