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Non-conformists sock it to them

By Renee Fisher
May 12, 2017 - 0 comments

An alert reader has passed on to Life in the Boomer Lane the results of a research study about the benefits of non-conformity.

Let’s face it. The human tendency toward conformity has served us throughout the millennia. Without our need to belong to a group and to obey common rules and mores, we’d all be bouncing off the walls, constantly J-walking, going to work in our pajamas and never brushing our teeth. And, in a horrific, worst-case fantasy scenario, there might also be a chance that a non-conformist, duly-elected president would shun the truth, insult our allies, utter a never-ending stream of preposterous nonsense through Twitter, and wear his ties long enough to highlight the exact location of his genetalia.

This extreme example aside, we do conform. We generally cross at the light, obey speed limits, pay our taxes, and tell young moms that their babies are beautiful. But is there any advantage to flaunting the norms, marching to the beat of our own drummer, or dancing like no one is watching?

In one specific instance, the answer is yes. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research investigated the theory that people who are nonconformists can potentially be viewed as being more high status and more competent than those who conform to social norms. Case in point: socks.

“Socks?” Who cares about socks. Nobody sees them anyway. Socks are boring, unless they develop a hole at the big toe, and, in that case can make us even more deranged than being audited. Otherwise, who even thinks about socks? The answer is otherwise.

The study found that people who deliberately choose to wear whacky socks are seen as having increased status and competency. In other words, people have the potential to see you as more brilliant, creative and successful.

“We proposed that, under certain conditions, nonconforming behaviours can be more benefi cial to someone than simply trying to fi t in. In other words, when it looks deliberate, a person can appear to have a higher status and sense of competency,” stated authors of the study, Silvia Bellezza, Francesca Gino and Anat Keinan from Harvard University.

LBL is, herself, a devotee of crazy socks. If she weren’t, she would never have written this post. But now, she can acknowledge that she is viewed, as she does view herself, as a brilliant, creative, successful sort.

She has, over the years, entertained any number of medical staff in pre-op rooms, with her choice of wacky foot attire. She has given birth while wearing her socks, and she has, in later years, delighted the offspring of those children with her socks. She currently sports a variety of cat socks that she purchases from China for $.99 to $1.15 per pair. She is convinced they are made of nuclear waste, but they are cute. She also has to cut a notch at the top of each sock to prevent a stoppage of blood circulation. All worth it for the joy they provide to her and others.

Back to the study. According to the article, “If you bust out the whacky patterns and crazy colours then there may be something else going on – embodied cognition. This is an interesting concept about how our clothing choices affect our cognitive processes. Dr. Adam Galinsky, a social psychologist from Northwestern University, conducted a study that showed what we wear affects the way we think, feel and act.”

Even more, “It’s this perception that helps us to subtly achieve more success without lack of bravery or confidence.” And that one sentence is enough for LBL to justify wearing toxic fabric that cuts off her circulation. Without containing an ounce of either bravery or confidence, LBL can leap a tall building in a single bound or assist anyone stuck under a tractor. She has never actually been called upon to do either, and she strongly hopes she never will. But it’s nice to know that, in a pinch, her cat socks or her polka dot socks or her striped socks or any other of her assorted rule-breaking socks, will have others thinking that she can.

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