5 December 2005

Dress Your Family in Courdoroy and Psychology

Posted in Psychology at 11:41 PM by Greg

Here’s an idea for what (I think) would be a really interesting senior project for someone majoring in either psychology or fashion design. I guess I would call it the “Clothes Make the Man” study.

I noticed about a week ago, as I was changing in the locker room on campus after having gone running, that a rather strong source of non-verbal communication coming from a person might be what he or she is wearing. There are definite styles of outfits, and I don’t suppose it would be hard to assign them to different types of people. A 65-year-old man wearing some of the things that my teenage brother’s got in his closet would definitely turn a lot of heads — and so would the reverse — and I think it would be fun to see just how much our perceptions of other people are influenced by clothing.

So here’s the idea for the study: A subject is placed in a room somewhere, and into this room come (one at a time) people of varying ages wearing varying types of outfits. For completeness, there should probably be a few people wearing bathing suits or something similarly negligible, in order to approximate the effects of a “null” outfit. These… exhibits wouldn’t be allowed to say anything to the subject. The subject, after observing an exhibit for maybe 10 or 15 seconds, would have to write down how old he or she thinks the exhibit is. Then the next one comes in and so on. With enough test subjects and outfits, and knowledge of the exhibits’ real ages, whoever’s conducting the experiment should be able to judge the overall effect provided by the different sets of clothing. The protocol, of course, could also be adapted to simiarly determine the effects of hair styles, body posture, conversation style, speech patterns, etc.

I haven’t a clue if this has already been done or not, but since I had the idea recently I thought I’d throw it out as my first serious post. Maybe someone who’s progressed beyond Psych 101 would know a bit more about the topic?

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