The figures below show that responses to the questions differed depending on whether participants were in the light coloured or black coloured clothing condition. In order to test the significance of the results, an independent samples t-test was carried out on each dependent variable (See Appendix 2 for SPSS Output). This test was used because we wanted to test for a significant difference between two conditions when different participants were used in each condition.
The figures and statistics show that for each dependent variable the black clothing condition made a considerably more negative impression than the light clothing condition. John was considered significantly less honest, more aggressive, more responsible and less socially adept when wearing black. Although justifiableness did demonstrate a difference, it was not significant. Overall these results support the hypothesis.
Figure 1. Mean ratings for Question One, higher scores indicate that John’s account of the event was considered to be more honest. A very significant difference was found between the perceived honesty of John and the colour of his shirt (t (48) = -4.802, p;.0001). John was considered significantly more dishonest in the dark clothing condition.
Figure 2. Mean ratings for Question Two, higher scores indicate that John was considered more aggressive. A very significant difference was found between the perceived aggressiveness of John and the colour of his shirt (t (40) = 3.911, p;.0001). John was considered significantly more aggressive in the dark clothing condition. Figure 3. Mean ratings for Question Three, higher scores indicate that John’s retaliation was considered more necessary/justifiable. There was no significant difference found between the perceived justifiability of John’s retaliation and the colour of his shirt (t (47) = -.425, p;.05). This means we can reject the hypothesis in relation to this particular characteristic, John was not considered significantly less justifiable in the dark clothing condition.
Figure 4. Mean ratings for Question Four, higher scores indicate John was considered more responsible for the fight. A very significant difference was found between the perceived responsibility of John for the fight and the colour of his shirt (t (48) = 6.117, p;.0001). John was considered significantly more responsible for the fight in the dark clothing condition.
Figure 5. Mean ratings for Question Five, higher scores indicate John was considered more socially adept. A very significant difference was found between the perceived social adeptness of John and the colour of his shirt (t (48) = -3.753, p;.0001). John was considered significantly less socially adept in the dark clothing condition.
The main findings from this study confirm the hypothesis made. Overall, a significantly more negative impression was made of John when he wore a dark/black coloured shirt than when he wore a light coloured shirt. Aggression, honesty, responsibility and social adeptness were significantly affected by the colour of clothing shown in the scenario. Supporting that overall black or dark clothing does give a more negative impression as well as a more aggressive one.
Our results thus demonstrate both the colour of clothing effect and the existence of a black clothing stereotype. Justifiableness (John’s retaliation was necessary) however was not significantly affected by clothing colour, and therefore in this case cannot be considered as part of the negative/aggressive impression formed. Possible reasons for this may be that the question was not structured in a way that would provoke a strong response from participants; it is also possible this aspect of scenario got lost in the other events described. Additionally justifiability may not be something that is affected by colour of clothing or the black clothing stereotype, this seems a likely explanation as all other dependent variables were demonstrated as very significant, and this does not suggest any problems with the overall experimental methodology.
The main findings are thus in agreement with previous research into the colour of clothing effect and the black clothing stereotype, including those studies mentioned in the introduction. John was considered less reliable (as in Vrij & Akehurst 1997 study), and less honest/more guilty (as in Vrij 1997) when wearing black. The scenario used was original and as discussed in the introduction it was important to see if the stereotype and clothing effect would still be present with an original scenario and in different social situations. Our results suggest that this is true, and thus we can extend the generalisability of the effect further into everyday social life.
This has important implications for real life, it says a lot about social and self-perception, as well as impression formation. It suggests that impression formation is very much still at work in everyday social encounters, and that colour associations, especially that of black are likely to exist in everyday life. We can confirm this as more research is conducted in different situations and with different sub-groups, and still produces significant results, as this study has shown.
The sample used could be considered as fairly unrepresentative, as it consists of university students. However, this just highlights the fact that the colour of clothing effect does exist across sub-groups of society, and does not reduce the reliability of our research. Further research could employ the same method used in this experiment to other sub-groups of society and see whether the stereotype and effect do still exist.
In considering methodological concerns with the experiment, it is important to look at whether the questions used, i.e. sample of behaviours, were representative over a longer time span. It is likely that they are as the main characteristics of the colour of clothing effect and the black clothing stereotype don’t seem to have changed over the past few years and thus we would assume they are unlikely to change in the near future. However, this may not be the case and the experiment might need to be modified to adapt to the circumstances of impression formation present at the time of investigation.
To further extend knowledge on the effect and the stereotype, you could introduce further variables, such as different shades of colours. It might be possible that it is the intensity of the black which is having the effect, rather than black itself.
In conclusion the results from this study suggest that there is a significant presence of the black clothing stereotype and of colour of clothing effects within our society. Impression formation can be affected by what clothes we choose to wear, depending on the context in which this impression formation takes place. In answer to the earlier question – why are we so quick to judge people by what they wear? It is possible that we cannot see past stereotypes that we hold, and thus our first impression (in this case that a person is wearing black), is what sticks in our mind. Further research does need to be done, to provide continued and further support for the effect and the stereotype across situations and groups and to further investigate the reasons for its occurrence.
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Vrij, A. (1997). Wearing black clothes: The impact of offenders’ and suspects’ clothing on impression formation. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 11, 47-53.
Vrij, A., ; Akehurst, L. (1997). The existence of a black clothing stereotype: The impact of a victim’s black clothing on impression formation. Psychology, Crime, & Law, 3, 227-237.