Proof That Body Language And Clothing Impacts Judgments and Perceptions
Christopher Philip

We have plenty of anecdotal evidence that nonverbal communication plays an important role in impression formation. However, the daily examples we experience are simply not enough to provide reliable proof that body language really drives perceptions.

Thankfully, researchers led by Iain Greenlees, University College Chichester, tested a few basic nonverbal expressions coupled with specific clothing on impressions about an athlete to discover just what impact effect they had.

In the study, 40 tennis players viewed video of target tennis players in a warm up scenario. Each subject viewed one target player in one of the four combination of body language and clothing.

They saw either:

1. Positive body language/tennis-specific clothing;
2. Positive body language/general sportswear;
3. Negative body language/tennis-specific clothing, or;
4. Negative body language/general sportswear.

Body language was manipulated using specific guidelines.

1. Positive body language: Models were instructed to stand tall and erect with shoulders back and chest out, head up, chin level with the ground, their eyes looking directly
at the camera (the opponent) for prolonged periods of time.

2. Negative body language: Models were instructed to adopting a hunched posture, head
and chin held down, with eyes looking down or briefly glancing at the opponent.

Clothing included either a full tracksuit made by a recognized tennis clothing manufacturer or a nonbrand pair of tracksuit bottoms with a general sports top.

Next, the participants gave their impressions of the target tennis player across various dimensions.

Results were as expected. The target players displaying positive body language were rated as being in a more positive state than when displaying negative body language. Thus, the researchers found confirmation that early nonverbal cues are used by observers to form impressions about another person. It also lends support to the idea that nonverbals play a role in how encounters might develop.

Interestingly, however, clothing did not prove to be a significant contributor to perceptions about the target player’s mental state and readiness. In other words, it was the target players body language, rather than his clothing, which signaled to the viewers about what kind or emotion, good or bad, he was experiencing inside his head.

So what effect does clothing really have on judgments?

The data showed that clothing was more important in terms of “dispositional judgments” which are judgments about a person’s enduring characteristics. Naturally, the most favourable long-term characteristics were given to the target player who both displayed positive body language, and whom wore tennis-specific clothing.

This type of research is not all that surprising as it confirms what we already believe and know intuitively. We’re prone to making judgments about people quickly and usually with visual cues first as they are more easily obtained. We can either be the types of people who use this to our advantage and so use our body language in effort to control the impressions we make in others, or we can be the ones who complain that the world is so. This article has provided at least two ways that nonverbal communication can be used to boost impressions via positive body language and clothing. It will be up to you to implement these techniques or ignore them.

Resources

Greenless, Iain; Richard Buscombe; Richard Thelwell; Tim Holder and Matthew Rimmer. Impact of Opponents’ Clothing and Body Language on Impression Formation and Outcome Expectations. Journal of Sports & Exercise Psychology. 2005. 27: 39-52.