Do the Clothes Make the Man (or Woman)?

The Huffington Post—May 9, 2012

by Helene Pavlov, M.D., FACR, Radiologist-in-Chief at Hospital for Special Surgery

In a recent New York Times article titled, "Mind Games: Sometimes a White Coat Isn't Just a White Coat," Adam D. Galinsky, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, describes "enclothed cognition." Enclothed cognition is "the effects of clothing on cognitive processes." He claims that we think not just with our brains but also with our bodies, and that the clothes one wears and the specific meaning attached to the clothes causes one to ascribe that meaning to their behavior.

According to Professor Galinsky, a physician who wears his or her white lab coat and knows its symbolic meaning tends to be more careful, rigorous and good at paying attention.

How we behave is clearly affected by the clothes we wear.

The article in the Times piece asks an important question: How would our behavior change if we wore the clothes of varying professions? As a radiologist, I know that on occasion radiologists are not recognized to be physicians; perhaps this is because radiologists do not always "dress like physicians." Even though we provide patient care and consult with our physician colleagues, many radiologists wear lab coats only at conferences. Since radiologists spend the majority of the day interpreting imaging studies while looking at a monitor in a restricted quiet area, dress tends to be casual. We often do not wear a white doctor's coat because we are not in direct patient contact; dress has often been thought to be less important. If Professor Galinsky's theory holds true, it is possible that radiologists' attention might be heightened if white coats were mandated all the time.

Read the full story at huffingtonpost.com.

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