You are Not So Smart – Episode 25 – “Enclothed Cognition”

A friend of mine tipped me off to this one, folks. So much obliged, Wayne. Good call on Boing Boing’s You are Not So Smart.

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The popular website Boing Boing started as a zine in the late ’80s by Mark Frauenfelder and his wife, Carla Sinclair. The tagline, “The World’s Greatest Neurozine,” was telling of the role the publication/site would play in cyberpunk subculture. The podcast, hosted by David McRaney, is another animal altogether.

I was introduced to this delightful hour-plus show with episode 25, Enclothed Cognition.

“Clothes are charged with symbolism,” McRaney succinctly primes the audience in the intro, which follows a brief introductory act – not a unique model, but a tested and effective one nonetheless.

Hajo Adam, a professor of management and a researcher at Rice University’s School of Business who pioneered the sociological and psychological phenomenon of Enclothed Cognition, took over from there.

They talk about the correlation between comfort and productivity as regards the casual Friday phenomenon. They talk about the symbolism behind the suit and tie as a sign of legitimacy. The “fake it ’til you make it” approach to dress is covered. It’s all very interesting.

What’s not really mentioned, and could’ve enriched the subject matter in this episode ten fold, was that this isn’t necessarily a new discipline of study. It sounds a lot like semiotics, the study of meaning-making. It’s an academic field devoted to signs and sign processes, designation, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication. The difference I guess is that semiotics is thought of a subgenre of linguistics. But maybe clothes are some kind of communicative currency like the mobile phone or the personal computer – more than status signifiers (as noted in the episode). Food for thought.

This show hits all the right notes: A novel intro segment, followed by a more cerebral middle act, and a finale designed to make you chew on the subject matter long after the earbuds are out. It really does keep on giving. I will certainly critique tomorrow’s clothing selection (mine and others’) after listening.

One last comment on this new favorite of mine: The host sounds a lot like Paul F. Tompkins — great dresser by the way.

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