Dr. Abraham Kuruvilla, seminary professor and medical doctor, discusses why people respect the white coat, and why you need a coat of your own. Did you know that if you wear a white coat your ability to pay attention goes up pretty sharply—but only if you believe it belongs to a doctor. If you thought it belonged to a painter, nope, no luck.

So concluded Prof. Adam Galinsky and his team at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology recently.

A bunch of undergrads were randomly assigned to white-coat or street-clothes groups and tested for attention. The white-coated bunch made only half the mistakes as the others. Amazing!

Soon after the The New York Times first reported this bit of news, they issued a correction:

An article on Tuesday about the effects of clothing on cognitive processes misstated the name of the journal that published a recent study showing that wearing a doctor’s white coat led subjects to pay sharper attention. It is The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, not The Journal of Experimental Social Cognition.”

Obviously, the folks at ye olde Gray Lady weren’t wearing white coats. Or if they were, they thought the garments belonged to painters!

In any case, Galinsky et al. are interested in the growing field called “embodied cognition.” “We think not just with our brains but with our bodies,” declared Dr. Galinsky, “and our thought processes are based on physical experiences that set off associated abstract concepts.” Like: if you had a hot drink in your hands, you’d rate others personally warmer. Like: if you carry a heavy clipboard, you’ll feel more important.

(Maybe I should carry a clipboard and a hot drink into my patients’ rooms, wearing a white coat.)

And you actually have to wear it; it’s no good hanging in your closet. A second experiment had three groups: those wearing a doctor’s coat, those wearing a painter’s coat (actually the same as the doctor’s garb, only these guinea pigs were told different), and group three seeing a doctor’s coat in the room. Group one won the prize.

Here’s Galinsky: “You have to wear the coat, see it on your body and feel it on your skin for it to influence your psychological processes.” Apparently clothes “invade the body and brain,” creating a new psychological state.

It’s all in the mind, then, huh?

Well, not in the Bible. There it tells us of our need for a clothing exchange, not so that we’ll feel good, but so that we “acquire” the righteousness of the One who clothes us.

Our original state:

For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment
Isaiah 64:6

What Christ did for us:

I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God;
For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
Isaiah 61:10

And all of this happens—yup! it really happens—when we place our trust in Christ as our only God and Savior, believing he paid for our sins.

For all of you who were baptized into Christ
have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Galatians 3:27

As Charles Wesley’s powerful words described it in 1738:

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Not embodied cognition, but embodied salvation!

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