Tags: Health Topics | Law Enforcement | perception | reality | paranoia

Spot the Manipulator: Clothing as Mere Costume, Facade

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Tuesday, 20 August 2019 05:30 PM Current | Bio | Archive

The Perils of Reading a Book by Its Cover: Anyone Can Dress the Part 

I enter the courtroom to see the accused sitting at defense counsel's table in a suit and tie, clean-shaven, wearing non-prescription attitude glasses. He even looks like Clark Kent in "Superman." The jury might find it hard to believe this is the same man portrayed in his booking photo from the night of the crime. He is taking advantage of the reality that as objective as we would like to think we are, we still judge books by their covers.

I've prosecuted many different types of manipulators who take advantage of the ability to dress the part, knowing that appearances can be deceiving. The tendency to read a book by its cover is corroborated by both experience — and research.

Status Via Style

Research by Rob M.A. Nelissen and Marijn H.C. Meijers aptly titled "Social Benefits of Luxury Brands as Costly Signals of Wealth and Status” (2011) showed that people treat individuals wearing luxury brands better than those not wearing luxury name-brand labels.

In fact, they showed the people treat the same person better when he or she wears the same clothing — one with that brand label, the other without.

Other research fuels the perception from the perspective of the individual donning different clothes. Hajo Adam and Adam D. Galinsky in "Enclothed Cognition" demonstrated that wearing certain clothing causes people to assume the costumed role.

The article of clothing used in their research was a lab coat; a garment associated with carefulness, and attention. Sure enough, they found that wearing a lab coat increased selective attention. But it apparently depended on what type of coat it was.

Wearing a coat described as a doctor´s coat increased sustained attention as compared to wearing a coat described as a painter´s coat. The researchers concluded that clothes influence the wearer both symbolically and physically — as they are wearing them.

Dressing the Part: When Credibility is a Costume

Research by Hiroshi Kurihara et al., "Importance of Physicians’ Attire: Factors Influencing the Impression it Makes on Patients" (from 2014) revealed that regardless of a doctor´s gender, the most appropriate manner of dress was considered to be a white coat, followed by surgical scrubs.

Younger participants perceived scrubs as more appropriate than their older counterparts.

But does that mean that everyone wearing a white coat or scrubs is a doctor?

Consider how you would greet a man wearing scrubs or a lab coat in a dark parking lot at night who asked for your assistance. Would you say, "Good evening doctor, how can I help you?" Obviously, a stranger in a dark parking lot is still a stranger — regardless of attire.

Safety is not about paranoia, but perception; but perception can influence reality.

Look More Closely for "Costume Incorrectness"

The case of "Dirty John," as profiled by the Los Angeles Times, is illustrative of how a doctor´s costume facilitated a dramatic story of love and deception.

Con man John Meehan, masquerading as a doctor, swept high society single Debra Newell off her feet with his handsome looks and doting, charismatic personality.

He marryied her within less than two months of their first date.

Claiming to be a physician, he not only dressed the part, he overdressed the part — wearing medical scrubs everywhere. When he dropped the doctor costume, his attire was unflattering, even described by Debra´s mother as "tacky." Consistent with luxury brand research, Debra took him to Brooks Brothers and dressed him up like a doll, no doubt so others would view him in a better light.

But they didn´t. In fact, even the threads of his doctor costume began to unravel with increased exposure. Debra´s daughter noticed that John´s scrubs were faded and frayed around the heels — more indicative of a receptionist in a medical office than a physician.

Apparently, taking a closer look at surrounding circumstances can permit perception to overcome stereotype before jumping to conclusions.

Yes, Appearances Can Deceive

In the article, "Clothes Make the Con Man," Sarah Treleaven discusses Dirty John as well as other infamous con artists who exploited the human tendency to judge a book by its cover. In fact she notes that Dirty John is the exception to the rule; most manipulators carefully select their costume, to ingratiate themselves with their target audience.

Accordingly, because anyone can dress the part, when forming a first impression, consider conversation, setting, and other surrounding circumstances in order to gain a clearer view of the person behind the persona.

This article was first published in Psychology Today.

Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.

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Consider how you would greet a man wearing scrubs or a lab coat in a dark parking lot at night who asked for your assistance. Would you say, "Good evening doctor, how can I help you?" Obviously, a stranger in a dark parking lot is still a stranger, regardless of attire.
perception, reality, paranoia
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2019-30-20
Tuesday, 20 August 2019 05:30 PM
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