Say you're about to take a literature test or you're planning to sit down in front of your computer all day and hammer out an important creative task. What should you wear? How about if you're aiming to plough through some data or do some difficult analytic work?

Neither your classmates or your cat are going to have much of an opinion. Whether you plonk down in sweats or suit up for success neither will blink and eye. But science suggests that even if no one will notice but you, what you wear can affect your performance.

That's the takeaway of a recent Nautilus article by Cody Delistraty, laying out recent research on the subject. According to the latest science, "different styles of dress may influence your test-taking skills," Delistraty reports. The details are fascinating -- and not just for students.

Go formal to be more creative

To reach that conclusion a research team led by Abraham M. Rutchick, a psychologist at California State University, Northridge, asked a group of 60 students to rate the relative formality of their clothes and then take a test that gauged whether they were more inclined to think abstractly or concretely.

"Rutchik found that participants who rated their clothing as more formal than that of their peers tended to select the more abstract answers," says Delistraty. Follow up experiments that asked participants to change clothes confirmed the correlation between abstract thinking and more formal attire.

What does this insight mean for the real world? The takeaway seems to be that, for any task involving abstract thinking, be it a literature exam or a brainstorming session, you might do better if you show up looking sharp.

Go casual for concentration

The same can't be said if you need to be rigorous and analytical, however. "'In an engineering exam, you would do worse' if you were wearing more formal clothing relative to your peers," Delistraty quotes Rutchick as saying. Likewise "craftsmen, sportsmen, and those who create tangible things," can leave their ties or heels at home and opt for something more casual.

Why? The discomforts of more formal clothing could be a distraction, as could comparing your outfit to others. "It might be best to dress down rather than up so as to focus on the task at hand" in these situations, suggests the article. Also, you'd just look silly playing football in a suit.

Published on: Mar 18, 2016