In one of the most extraordinary scientific experiments of the 20th century, social psychologist Stanley Milgram asked people to deliver electric shocks to another person they believed was taking part in the research.
In fact, the person being ‘shocked’ was an actor, and no shock was actually administered.
But the participants didn’t know this. A considerable proportion obeyed the man conducting the study, even when they believed they were delivering potentially lethal shocks.
Milgram was exploring obedience to authority, but even he was amazed at how willing his participants were to do as they were told.
One way in which the experiment established authority was to have the man running it (not Milgram) wear a grey lab coat. Apparently this ‘outfit’ played a substantial role in making those taking part follow directions that anyone outside this context would surely have viewed as cruel and inhuman.
The thing is, I suspect that simply wearing the lab coat also played a part in helping the experimenter feel superior. Clothes can do this.
Now while I’m certainly not suggesting you dress as a dictatorial lab manager (heaven forbid), there’s nothing like a reminder that what you wear can affect the way you feel.
In the wrong circumstances, dressing down can lead to you feeling down. As for the opposite… Well perhaps there’s a reason it’s called dressing up?
Why not give it a try? Once in a while, for instance, dress as though you’re headed for an important meeting even if you’re actually doing nothing more demanding than your grocery shopping. Please don’t blame me if people suddenly start treating you more respectfully, however.