Monday, 31 October 2016

The psychological impact of uniform

The Schoolwear Association believes there are real benefits to students wearing school uniform.

And with a growing trend to adopt increasingly smart, school-specific uniform, it seems that schools agree.

The idea that wearing uniform reduces peer pressure and bullying because everyone is dressed the same is fairly obvious.

But what about its ability to improve behaviour more generally and raise attainment?  Can what you wear really change the way you feel, think and act?
There is plenty of research to suggest that it can.

There are lots of studies to show that clothing has a strong impact on how you see yourself as well as how others see you.

A project to measure the effect of workplace dress on employee self-perceptions showed that people viewed themselves as most authoritative, trustworthy, productive and competent when wearing formal business attire as opposed more casual dress.1

In a similar study, employees reported ‘psychological discomfort’ if they felt ‘inappropriately dressed for work’, whereas they felt most confident when dressed ‘appropriately’ in comparison to their colleagues. 
Researchers Adam and Galinsky determined that clothing could actually affect the way people behave. 

They conducted an experiment with a white lab coat; an item of clothing they found people tend to associate with attention to detail. 

One group of participants wore a white lab coat described as a painter’s coat and another group wore the same lab coat which was described as a medical doctor’s lab coat. A third group saw the lab coat but did not wear it.  They were then given a task to perform which tested their ability to concentrate despite various distractions. The group wearing the coat described as a medical doctor’s lab coat significantly outperformed the other two groups.

All of these studies, and many more besides, have found clear links between dress and the way we behave.
But recent research by a team of psychological scientists from California State University, Northridge and Columbia University goes even further than that to suggest that the formality of our dress can actually change the way we think.4

In their experiment, they first asked students to rate the formality of what they were wearing in relation to their peers. Then they got them to perform a series of tests designed to measure their style of thinking: they were given a list of actions and asked to choose between abstract and concrete explanations for the action. For example, the description for ‘‘voting’’ could be the more abstract: ‘‘influencing the election’’, or the more concrete action: ‘‘marking a ballot.’’

The more formally the student felt they were dressed, the more likely they were to opt for the abstract descriptions, suggesting that formal dressing leads to more abstract thinking.

So what does it all mean for school uniform?

Whilst the research out there doesn’t prove the specific benefits of school uniform, it does back up the idea that children who go to school in a smart, formal uniform that matches their peers’ are likely to feel more comfortable, less open to peer pressure and in a mindset that says they are ready to learn.

Behavioural Psychologist, Jo Hemmings, says:

“A badly fitted or tatty uniform means children stand out from their peer group, and can make them feel embarrassed or uncomfortable, and a likelier target for teasing and bullying.

“It’s important to choose uniform that fits your child well, is comfortable to wear and good quality, and to keep it in good order.”

What do you think?  Does the way you dress affect the way you think, feel or act?

  1. (Peluchette J, Karl K: The impact of workplace attire on employee self-perceptions. Human Resource Development Quarterly. 2007, 18 (3): 345-360.)
  2. (Rafaeli A, Dutton J, Harquial C, Mackie-Lewis S: Navigating by attire: the use of dress by administrative employees. Academy of Management Journal. 1997, 40: 19-45.)
  3. (Adam H, Galinsky AD: Enclothed cognition, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 2012 48 (4): 918-925.)
  4. (Slepian, M. L., Ferber, S. N., Gold, J. M., & Rutchick, A. M. (2015). The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing. Social Psychological and Personality Science. doi: 10.1177/1948550615579462)