School & District Management

Should Students Wear Lab Coats to Class?

By Liana Loewus — April 05, 2012 1 min read
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The New York Times reports on a study finding that when people put on a white doctor’s coat, their ability to pay attention increases sharply.

Scientists conducting the study, which was published on the website of The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, were looking into what they call enclothed cognition—"the effects of clothing on cognitive processes.” It’s an offshoot of a field called embodied cognition, which Adam D. Galinsky, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the head of the study, described as the notion that “our thought processes are based on physical experiences.”

In one of the experiments, 58 undergraduates wore either a white lab coat or street clothes and took a test for selective attention. “Those who wore the white lab coats made about half as many errors on incongruent trials as those who wore regular clothes,” according to the Times. A second experiment found that merely seeing a doctor’s coat was not enough to significantly increase attention. And those who wore the same white coat but were told it was a painter’s coat did not acquire heightened attention either. Galinsky explained to the paper that “clothes invade the body and brain, putting the wearer into a different psychological state.”

If the findings apply to people of all ages, it seems to me they could have implications for the classroom.

I’m wondering—do school uniforms have this effect? Does it matter what they look like? (Button-up and tie or skirt vs. casual pants and t-shirt?) Short of having students wear doctor’s coats on testing days (or everyday, for that matter), how might teachers use this information to their advantage?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.