Individual differences in working memory capacity (WMC) increase the ability, and tendency, to devote greater attentional control to a task—improving performance on a wide range of skills. In addition, recent research on enclothed cognition demonstrates that the situational influence of wearing a white lab coat increases controlled attention, due to the symbolic meaning and physical experience of wearing the coat. We examined whether these positive influences on attentional control lead to negative performance outcomes on insight problem-solving, a task thought to rely on associative processes that operate largely outside of explicit attentional control. Participants completed matchstick arithmetic problems while either wearing a white lab coat or in a no-coat control condition. Higher WMC was associated with lower insight problem-solving accuracy in the no-coat condition. In the coat condition, the insight problem-solving accuracy of lower WMC individuals dropped to the level of those higher in WMC. These results indicate that wearing a white lab coat led individuals to increase attentional control towards problem solving, hindering even lower WMC individuals from engaging in more diffuse, associative problem-solving processes, at which they otherwise excel. Trait and state factors known to increase controlled attention and improve performance on more attention-demanding tasks interact to hinder insight problem-solving.
Van Stockum, Charles A. Jr. and DeCaro, Marci S.
"Enclothed Cognition and Controlled Attention during Insight Problem-Solving,"
The Journal of Problem Solving: Vol. 7
Available at: https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/jps/vol7/iss1/8