A Weird Connection Between (Im)Modesty & Divorce

By: hawkgrrrl
April 3, 2012

I know the rest of you were as shocked as I was at the demise of Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore’s long standing union. Shocked that it didn’t happen ten years earlier! I was recently reading an article in the NYT about a scientific prediction for celebrity breakups. Here are some of the factors that correlate with celebrity divorces and factor into their prediction model:

  • Age at time of marriage.  The younger they are (based on the spouses’ combined age), the more often they break up.  This doesn’t necessarily imply causation as it’s possible that celebrities who are prone to divorce are also prone to marrying young (vs. the other way around).
  • Marital history. Caveat emptor all who marry Liz Taylor!  Even you, Richard Burton.
  • Length of courtship.  The shorter the courtship or more “whirlwind” the romance, the more likely the couple would eventually split.  Seems like a no-brainer, and my guess is that they aren’t leaping into marriage to avoid breaking the law of chastity like some people I know.
  • Relative fame of husband and wife.  This one was tricky as celebrity careers are often in ascent or descent.  Apparently, the amount of fame was less of a predictor than the quality of the fame.  As a result, this measure was replaced with:
    • NYT/Tabloid ratio.  The statisticians normalized the news coverage (or “fame”) by comparing the ratio of “legitimate” news coverage (New York Times) to “sensationalistic” news coverage (tabloids).  Since tabloids are more gossip-oriented, lots of coverage from those sources correlates with salacious rumors, drug use, infidelity, rehab, public arguing, drunken racist rants, forgetting to wear underwear to the Oscars, hitting bellboys with a telephone, or visible cellulite at the beach.  Only the drivel predicted divorce.
  • Sex symbol factor. This was determined by googling the wife’s name and looking at the first five images returned and counting how many were scantily clad or naked.  Apparently, this is scientific research.  The less clothing, the higher the risk of divorce.  Interestingly, this was not similarly true for husbands.  At least one expert theorized that this was because women initiate 70% of breakups, so their behaviour is more predictive.  Also, female celebrities who choose to portray themselves as sex symbols have a higher rate of narcissism, and narcissists (of both sexes) feel entitled to have sex with anyone they choose (Newt Gingrich, cough, cough).  One psychologist cited that narcissistic female celebrities were often caught between feelings of grandiosity and feelings of worthlessness, creating a situation in which they required sexual attention to maintain self esteem.  Easy for him to say.

So, is modesty valuable because its inverse correlates with female narcissism and infidelity?  Even if it correlates, is there any sort of causation that could be reverse engineered?  Can infidelity-prone women stay on the straight and narrow if they simply cover up?  Or will that just give them one more article of clothing to remove in the process?

An interesting study was just published on the effect clothing has, not on people around us, but on the wearer’s own mental state.  The effect was called enclothed cognition.  The study involved participants doing detail-oriented work.  To evaluate the impact of clothing, some did the work in their regular clothes while others were told to don a lab coat.  Those in lab coats made half as many errors as their plain clothes counterparts.  The study further evaluated the effect of seeing a lab coat, then performing the work in one’s own regular clothes (no improvement in results).  Another group was instructed to wear the lab coat, but it was referred to as a painter’s coat (there was also no benefit from this).  The only benefit occurred when the person identified the coat as a lab coat (symbolic of meticulous research techniques) and when the person then wore the symbolic clothing; like Superman taking off his glasses and putting on a red cape, this transformed the test subjects into more careful researchers.

Which brings us back to modesty.  The research on enclothed cognition suggests that modest clothing would only curb immoral behaviour if the wearer believed the modest clothing to be symbolic of moral behaviour.  Ergo, when the person wears it, she feels magically more moral.  (Magic underwear, anyone?)  Does this mean that the slogan “modest is hottest” reduces or eliminates the symbolic benefit (the cognition) of modest clothing?  Does enclothed cognition explain how garments are a protection to the wearer?


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18 Responses to A Weird Connection Between (Im)Modesty & Divorce

  1. Stephen M (Ethesis) on April 3, 2012 at 5:21 AM

    “enclothed cognition” — gee, someone came up with a new name for it ;)

    But seriously, it is well observed phenomena in a number of fields. Guess it should work for religion too.

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  2. NewlyHousewife on April 3, 2012 at 6:07 AM

    Though you also have to take into consideration that the test subjects probably did not wear a lab coat everyday. I’m sure if they did, it wouldn’t have made a difference (painters coat is probably compartmentalize into the box of generic coats).

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  3. hawkgrrrl on April 3, 2012 at 6:54 AM

    Newly – but I think your point also maybe has another dimension. At what point do garments just become underwear? Maybe daily wear makes them less special.

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  4. Bob on April 3, 2012 at 7:54 AM

    Opening Post:
    hawkgrrrl, I would like to comment on this. But I missed seeing any of these tabloids while doing my food shopping…

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  5. Bob on April 3, 2012 at 8:00 AM

    …I have never seen a man buy one of these

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  6. Jeff Spector on April 3, 2012 at 8:15 AM

    Firstly, who really cares? Secondly, I think there is a correlation between dressing modestly and self-esteem. In other words, given that we all share relatively the same parts, what one wears does say something about them.

    Though, I wouldn’t base my whole theology on modesty.

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  7. Syphax on April 3, 2012 at 8:44 AM

    This is a really, really important observation. There are a ton of studies of clothing and cognition, because sometimes when you’re running an experiment, the clothing that the research assistants are wearing can often influence the responses of the participants.

    While modesty is a trickier issue because every culture has its own standards of modesty, I would say at this point it’s pretty uncontroversial to say that what we wear does affect how we behave, and how others around us behave. Religions already know this – clerical collars, robes, hats, sackcloth and ashes, etc.

    As far as garments go, however, I am wondering whether their invisibility to others and the banality of daily use does diminish the effect. None of the studies I know of measure whether “enclothed cognition” wears off after a period of time.

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  8. GBSmith on April 3, 2012 at 9:04 AM

    Modesty has less to do with what’s covered and more with how it’s covered. A good definition of “modesty” would be helpful. Is it just a manner of dress that renders a persons asexual and would not give rise to any evil, vile, carnal, and devilish thoughts? Apostle Matthew Cowley praised long Navajo dresses because they “left everything to the imagination”. Just wondering.

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  9. Steven on April 3, 2012 at 1:24 PM

    The garment is only a reminder. How often do those married really think about their wedding ring? Do we really sit around and stare at it all day, and base our decisions regarding interaction with the opposite sex upon the last view of our wedding ring? I don’t think so. Still, it serves as a powerful reminder. Neither a wedding ring or garments are enough, in and of themselves, to stop people from making poor decisions. However, they’re better than nothing at all.

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  10. hawkgrrrl on April 4, 2012 at 1:35 AM

    Looks like this study hit the New York Times today too! http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/03/science/clothes-and-self-perception.html?src=me&ref=general

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  11. Cowboy on April 4, 2012 at 8:54 AM


    I’ve been through the Initiatory a time or two, but I don’t recall ever hearing your explanation of the Garment there. Out of respect I won’t repeat the phrasing, but suffice it to say that it is defined quite differently in the ordinance.

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  12. mh on April 4, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    I watched an interesting documentary on netflix called ‘the science of sex appeal.’ there was a study in sweden (i think) that said that when women are ovulating, they show more skin. could biology play a role in modesty?

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  13. annegb on April 4, 2012 at 10:52 AM

    The connection isn’t all that weird, it’s more common sense. Speaking as a member of the older generation.

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  14. Heber13 on April 4, 2012 at 12:36 PM

    “This was determined by googling the wife’s name and looking at the first five images returned and counting how many were scantily clad or naked. Apparently, this is scientific research.”

    I think my son has found his career path.

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  15. hawkgrrrl on April 4, 2012 at 5:08 PM

    MoHer – that was a very interesting documentary. I saw it a couple years ago too.

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  16. Badger on April 4, 2012 at 6:31 PM

    You know, I bet there are a million warnings against pornography for every one against marrying Liz Taylor, but which one is more harmful? Good work, Hawkgrrrl!

    Does the lab coat thing strike a chord with anyone else’s experience of wearing a suit to church? If you wear a suit routinely at work, I presume it’s routine, but for young men, and some older ones, church is by far the number one occasion for suit-wearing. As a young man I certainly developed a habit of enclothed cognition associating a suit with, hmmm, I guess I would call it public spirituality. It was reinforced by the emphasis on proper dress as a part of the obligation of church attendance, and by the distinctive odor of a suit, very different from all my other clothes because of dry cleaning (or, possibly for some teenage boys, insufficiently frequent dry cleaning, but I wouldn’t know anything about that).

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  17. Steven on April 5, 2012 at 9:10 AM

    Cowboy – There is a lot more said about garments in the temple ceremony, I agree. But when you get a temple recommend, there is a paragraph read about the wearing of the garment. It is now repeated in Handbook 2, section 3.4.5, to wit:”The garment provides a constant reminder of the covenants made in a temple….”

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  18. Steven on April 5, 2012 at 9:18 AM

    Oops — Sorry, reference was to Handbook 1, section 3.4.5.

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