Thursday, October 22, 2020

econlife - Why Zoom Needs the “Mr. Rogers Effect” by Elaine Schwartz

We always knew that Fred Rogers would change into his sweater and sneakers as he asked, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

I hope that you will enjoy this minute with Mr. Rogers: 

Psychologists tell us that there might be a “Mr. Rogers effect.” Changing your clothing can influence how you think and what you produce.

Dressing For Work

It turns out sweat pants and hoodies might not be ideal for working at home.

In a 2012 paper, two Northwestern business school cognitive psychologists investigated the impact of what we wear. Trying to observe the connection between our behavior and our clothing, they used a white lab coat. The goal was to see if focused attention improved when you wore a physician’s white lab coat, a painter’s white lab coat (identical to the physician’s), and when you looked at the white lab coat.

The results have been called enclothed cognition. When people wear certain clothing, their behavior adjusts to what the clothing means. So, when they wore the physician’s lab coat they demonstrated more attentively careful behavior. But, when they thought an identical white coat was for a painter and when they looked at the doctor’s white lab coat, they reverted to less of a focus.

Somewhat similarly, in a 2015 paper, scholars looked at the impact of formal clothing. Starting with the assumption that formal clothing can signal professionalism, they assumed it would add to performance but not friendliness. There, too, they saw a cognitive impact. They found that abstract processing became more acute when people were more formally dressed. Dressed formally, the study’s participants perceived actions on a higher level. Rather than “locking the door,” they were “securing the house.”

Our Bottom Line: Productivity

These cognitive clothing studies return us to the pandemic, our remote work, and our Zoom conference calls. They suggest that dressing for work, even when we remain at home, could boost our productivity. More professional clothing could enhance our attention spans, our abstract thinking, and even how we compare short term immediate gains to longer term benefits. Defined as getting more output from land, labor, and capital inputs, our productivity could increase.

As for Mr. Rogers, his sweater and sneakers, took him to the behavior he wanted to bring to his neighborhood.

My sources and more: The daily morning WSJ podcast always comes in handy. Conveying big and small ideas, yesterday it alerted me to clothing research. Enhancing my productivity, the WSJ news article linked to two academic papers, here and here. I hit a glitch when the first paper was gated but then found this article with the perfect summary.


Ideal for the classroom, econlife.com reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.