We have all heard the term “dress for success.” While it will probably allow you to be more successful if you dress up for an interview or a formal event, does it apply to everything? In high school, I had a friend who believed she had to dress up in order to do well on any test. Yet when I took my SATs or any other tests in high school, I made sure I would be comfortable, which usually ended up with me wearing a sweatshirt. But did not dressing up affect my grades? Was my friend right? Did her dressy appearance help her succeed in school?
I started my research with a “College Magazine” article , an informal article written by a college student. To summarize, the author agreed with the idea of “dress well, test well”. The author cited Carly Heltinger, author of “The Freshman 50” who praises the “dress well, test well” theory, but lacked scientific evidence to support this. While I did find several other articles written by college students claiming the “dress well, test well” method worked, I couldn’t find a true scientific study. I still thought this was an interesting, and testable theory. (I looked on Google Scholar and several library databases for studies and got nothing).
One article I did find that seemed to have some actual validity to it beyond the opinion of a campus opinion piece. This article evaluated the perspectives of two Ohio State University (boo OSU, go PSU) psychologists, professors Jennifer Crocker and Richard Petty. They claim they found what you wear affects your cognition—how you think. The psychology term for this is called “priming” and is when someone says one thing, you think of something automatically. Like beach and sand, or associating glasses with being smart. Petty states priming is a two-step process: “Clothes can be one example of something that can activate thoughts in our head but then once those thoughts in our head are activated or primed, then those primes can effect how we interpret the world around us and ultimately our behavior”. Priming is found in education all the time. We have all personally experienced it by having different feelings and reactions when we hearSAT rather than critical thinking test (even though they are the same thing). Crocker also argues that self-objectification consumes mental resources and creates a negative attitude. Self-objectification is defined as when we choose to evaluate ourselves based on appearance because we believe that this is how everyone else perceives us. Part of self-objectification is dressing down: where others won’t objectify you and you won’t objectify or be self conscious of yourself, and you can therefore be more focused. This can have the same exact effect as when one dresses promiscuously. On the other hand, self-objectification can cause a huge self-esteem boost when you are dressed up.
One of the reasons there may not be testing or experiments with specifically dressing for success and testing is because when people hear dress for success they commonly think of the business side of it: including interviews and presentations. Most people probably assume that this correlation carries over to testing, but it can’t be confirmed without a study. While the Ohio State article was helpful into the appearance of psychology, I still couldn’t find any studies to support my claim. But I was still really interested, and have attended every one of Andrew’s classes, so I figured that qualified me to design my own study.
A good study for this would be to randomly select certain high schools in diverse areas (so you are testing different genders, races, socioeconomic status—this is to ensure that the trend isn’t just in a certain group of students such as in girls, Asians, or poor people). This study couldn’t be double blind, because the students would know if they are “dressed for success”. Students would randomly be assigned to two groups: dressed up and not dressed up. The experimenters would provide the clothes to ensure students know they are dressed appropriately or not. All students would be given the same test, and then tests would be graded. The graders would only need to be blinded if it wasn’t a multiple-choice test (because multiple choice tests have clear answer keys and are objective). The results could then be compared and analyzed to see if the results were to happen by chance. The null hypothesis would be that what people wear doesn’t affect their test scores. The alternate hypothesis would be that what people wear does affect their test scores. I believe we would end up rejecting the null hypothesis because I assume that data would be consistent with professionalism and dressing for success in the business world.
So right now anxious SC200 peers, I can’t give you an answer. From my personal experience, I say do what feels right. Personally, I like the sweatshirt and leggings look and feel for exams, but if you think you do better dressed up, then go for it. But what is your cost? If it wouldn’t bother you to dress a little nicer, then maybe it could really help you. If I am not comfortable, I stress out and know I would not perform my best so I find it more beneficial to dress down. It is different for every person. From what I know (even with no study), I think it depends on the person. If you don’t pick out your outfit specifically for an exam, try dressing up a bit more and maybe you’ll see your grades increase as well. Maybe I can convince Andrew to give me some of his research money to conduct my own actual study 😉