Enclothed Cognition: Bet On Black?


How does what we wear impact on how we see ourselves? How does a teams uniform affect the way they play? Today on the blog Alex Titkov tells us about Enclothed Cognition and how athletes dress for success.


We may have noticed at certain moments that people treat us more favorably and respectfully if we dress in formal attire. The way one dresses undoubtedly affects how people perceive us but this is also true for the self.

How we dress and the personal meaning we attach to our clothing can also affect ourselves in how we behave and how well we perform physically and mentally in an area of psychology called "enclothed cognition".

Embodied Cognition

Enclothed cognition falls under the broader area of "embodied cognition" which basically emphasizes an opposing view that the body isn't merely a vessel through which the mind has at its bidding but that the environment in which our body is in (including the body's movements) equally has a say in how the mind works and how we act.

Or more simply that we not only think with our brains but also with our bodies. A recent study took two groups of people and had them perform the same task. Group 1 would wear a white coat that belonged to a doctor and Group 2 wore the same white coat but was told that it belonged to a painter. They had each group perform a similar task that emphasized attention and found that the people who wore the "doctor's" white coat displayed greater levels of concentration than the other group.

Men In Black

In the sporting realm, this also has shown similar results regarding kit color and also sport equipment. Another study found that American football and hockey teams that sported black uniforms were more aggressive than teams that wore non-black uniforms and were judged harsher by referees.

Accordingly, there has also been some evidence that European football teams who wore red also received more yellow and red cards. The Brazilian national football team has also displayed a preference to wear yellow whenever possible.

Amateur golfers have also been tested. In that study, novice golfers were given a putter that they were told was owned by a professional and discovered that not only did their performance increase but that their perception of the hole had also changed. Football fans also probably feel a greater sense of unity and social interaction walking in a sea of their respective team’s colors.


It's the Shoes

Technological advances have also played a part in how clothes can affect an athlete. Sporting apparel companies like Nike or Adidas continue to advertise improvements in football boots every year claiming they improve speed, touch, passing and shooting accuracy; subtly emphasizing one can buy success. Whether the actual increased quality of apparel directly translates into increased performance or not, athletes seem to take comfort in these advances.

At the recent Olympic Games, some Team Great Britain athletes said that it was important that what they wore was comfortable and that they felt increased confidence knowing that they were wearing the latest in athletic gear advancements.

Adidas for example, created footwear that is 25% lighter, their adizeroGLD20 swim wear showed 2% speed improvements, their ClimaCool gear has unique fabrics and ventilation zones to wick away heat and sweat, and their TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) compression material is designed to assist muscle movement allowing for increased acceleration, explosiveness, and endurance.  

Symbolic Associations

The various symbolic meanings athletes attribute to their clothing opens up some interesting possibilities. For example, similar research has found people that hold a hot drink perceive their social surrounding as warmer. Could this help build team bonding by having meetings with hot beverages or by increasing the temperature in a room? If players feel more comfortable and confident in their environment, this could help explain the nature of home field advantage or why some teams perform better away.

Can giving a player the captain's armband also improve their leadership ability or can wearing the number #9 on their jersey boost their feelings of being a pure striker? Either way it does appear that clothes can help make the man or woman.

Shakespeare may have been on to something when he said the world was a stage and the people in it were actors; just don't forget to dress the part.



Follow Alex on Twitter: @alextitkov

And read more of his work at the EMSEP Sport and Exercise Psychology Blog

Double M.S. in Sport and Exercise Psychology from Lund University. Sport science specialist, editor, writer, and footballer.