Dressing up for Christmas parties can make you feel sexier, more confident or just very self-conscious. Social and sartorial pitfalls abound, but what you may not realise is that your choice of outfit can change the way the brain understands the body.
The American psychologist William James wrote in 1890 about a woman he saw wearing a hat with a tall feather on it who instinctively ducked as she entered the room, as if the feather were part of her body. Modern neuroscience experiments have explored this further: if a monkey holds a tool, it’s been shown that the brain encompasses the tool so that it’s almost part of their body. This allows the monkey to use the tool dextrously, as if it were an extra-long finger.
The same effect may be felt with flamboyant clothing, or the magic wand of a fairy costume – this extension of our body may make us move and act differently. This may also be why we’re able to drive, as the whole car becomes the edges of our body – but it’s better not to try that out after the party.
Dr Daniel Glaser is director of Science Gallery at King’s College London
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010