Sartorial symbols of social class elicit class-consistent behavioral and physiological responses: a dyadic approach

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2014 Dec;143(6):2330-40. doi: 10.1037/xge0000023. Epub 2014 Sep 15.


Social rank in human and nonhuman animals is signaled by a variety of behaviors and phenotypes. In this research, we examined whether a sartorial manipulation of social class would engender class-consistent behavior and physiology during dyadic interactions. Male participants donned clothing that signaled either upper-class (business-suit) or lower-class (sweatpants) rank prior to engaging in a modified negotiation task with another participant unaware of the clothing manipulation. Wearing upper-class, compared to lower-class, clothing induced dominance--measured in terms of negotiation profits and concessions, and testosterone levels--in participants. Upper-class clothing also elicited increased vigilance in perceivers of these symbols: Relative to perceiving lower-class symbols, perceiving upper-class symbols increased vagal withdrawal, reduced perceptions of social power, and catalyzed physiological contagion such that perceivers' sympathetic nervous system activation followed that of the upper-class target. Discussion focuses on the dyadic process of social class signaling within social interactions.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Clothing / psychology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Power, Psychological*
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Class*
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Testosterone / analysis
  • Young Adult


  • Testosterone