How Fashion Improves Behavior

Updated: Apr 7

Ever heard of the Pavlovian dog theory? Well, for the sake of remaining loyal to our mascot we illustrated the behavioral phenomenon with a ferocious feline instead ... Warning! Please DO NOT try this on your next African safari excursion, you'll risk becoming lion's food!

An Illustration of Ivan Pavlov's Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning, also known as respondent conditioning is the theory of learning by association. In super technical terms, it's the repeated presentation of a neutral stimulus with an unconditioned stimuli (something that is naturally motivating in nature, i.e. sex, food, & water) in order to create a conditioned response. In other words, the fork alone can develop the power to make the lions salivate after repeatedly being presented with the fish. The food itself is considered a primary reinforcer, or a stimulus that naturally elicits a pleasant response. Hand in hand with founding father, B.F. Skinner's, theory on operant conditioning which implies that behaviors followed by positive consequences are more likely to occur in the future than behaviors followed by negative consequences. Paired together, the theories of operant and respondent conditioning allow us to form a better understanding of how negative habits, trauma responses, and emotional withdrawal can make a headway into our lives.

Learning histories can be formed using the applied behavior analytic theory of classical conditioning to teach new skills and associations in context to the world around us. How we perform at work, interact with our friends, and you guessed it... how we dress, are all influenced by the consequences we receive from life experiences. More work = more pay, more posts = mores likes, more squats = more booty, picking up what I'm putting down? As it relates to fashion, a Vogue magazine study report, details that cultural associations can be formed through our interactions with clothing. Wearing certain garments can effect our cognitive processes, a theory known as: enclothed cognition. The term introduced by psychologists Hajo Adam & Adam D. Galinsky refers to the systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer's psychological processes. The phenomenon comprised of the symbolic meaning of clothing and the physical experience of wearing them, closely align with the systematic change theories in applied behavior analysis. As a Behavior Analyst (BCBA), my daily job responsibilities include systematically arranging environmental variables in order to influence positive life changes for children with autism spectrum disorders. In the same way, refashioning, or changing your wardrobe can be a great way to intervene with some of those pesky & unwanted private behaviors. You know... oversleeping, overeating, procrastinating, and the likes. Such negative habits make it necessary to develop appropriate self-regulation routines in our homes. See our fashion infographic below for some helpful tips on systematically changing your wardrobe in order to decrease anxious behaviors and increase the likelihood of achieving your goals!

How to Change your Fashion Behaviors

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, wears the same outfit everyday in order to decrease the opportunity for anxiety elicited by the feeling of not knowing what to wear, and not having to think about it. He says, "I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community," when asked about the same gray t-shirt he is seen wearing daily, in the photograph below.

Adopting the idea from other pioneers, like Steve Jobs (pictured above right) and Barack Obama, the leaders found that spending time on frivolous things like getting dressed, limited their ability to focus on more important things in reference to their fields of service. Steve Jobs wearing a black turtleneck, blue denim jeans, and tennis shoes reserved his energy for technological advancement rather than the runway, however, can it be implied that while holding constant variables like clothing, he was able to pursue his longterm objectives with fewer distractors? Is that what allowed him to develop a product line that will live light years beyond his own legacy? Hmmm.... whether you choose to "lead with style," in a simple t-shirt and blue jeans or love switching it up with the latest trends, fashion can be a great tool for manipulating consequences. Remember, Skinner says behaviors followed by positive consequences are more likely to occur in the future than behaviors followed by negative consequences. If you experience a positive feeling when you wear a given t-shirt, loungewear set, or accessory then you're more likely to have that feeling when you wear the item again in the future. If wearing the same outfit every day can help Mark Zuckerberg reduce behaviors associated with anxiety, then you could easily wear a statement look every day to increase any behaviors you associate with confidence. Another example of a leader who demonstrates consistency in style is Janelle Monae.

Appearing in tuxedo pants, a white statement collar shirt, and black top hat, the Neo-soul artist repeatedly wore the same outfit colors [black & white] to express a dedication to uniformity and traditional family values. In a fashionable demonstration of discipline, Monae represents a class of leaders who forsake selfish vanity for the greater good. By refining the number of items you maintain in your wardrobe, and organizing your outfits for the week ahead of time, you can bring an element of control into your daily environment allowing room for consideration of more important things; like your purpose to serve the community. The bible says, "therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?" [Mark 6:25 NIV] Fashion fades, self-control lasts forever.

Written by: Sindy Victor, MS, BCBA, LBA Owner/Chief Clinical Officer


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Georgia, USA

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