RTRL.72: Effects of Clothing on Performance Evaluation (Urbaniak & Mitchell, 2022)


Urbaniak, O., & Mitchell, H. F. (2022). How to dress to impress: The effect of concert dress type on perception of female classical pianists. Psychology of Music, 50(2), 422-438.

What did the researchers want to know?

Does clothing influence judges’ evaluations of female pianists’ performances?

What did the researchers do?

Urbaniak and Mitchell (2022) recorded four female undergraduate pianists, each of whom gave nine performances of three musical works. Each pianist wore three black outfits: a long dress, a short dress, and a suit. (Each pianist performed each of the three pieces in each of the three outfits.) A total of 45 excerpts were prepared—9 with only audio and 36 with audio and video.

Study participants were 30 graduate and undergraduate students, 20 of whom were pianists and 10 who were other classical instrumentalists. Each participant met with the researcher individually and was asked to evaluate the excerpts as if they were adjudicators in a piano competition. Participants rated each excerpt on technical proficiency, musicality, appropriateness of dress, and overall performance.

After this, each participant was informally interviewed about their spontaneous observations. At the end of the interview, the researchers revealed the true purpose of the study and asked participants to reflect on potential unconscious biases.

Urbaniak and Mitchell used statistical analyses (three-way repeated measures ANOVA with two-way interactions) to examine the effects of dress, performer, and musical tasks. They also thematically analyzed the interview transcripts.

What did the researchers find?

Results indicated significant differences in ratings for appropriateness of dress, with the long dress being rated highest and short dress being rated the lowest. The researchers also found a significant effect of dress on overall performance rating, with performers in the long dress receiving the highest average performance ratings and performers in the short dress receiving the lowest average performance ratings. Urbaniak and Mitchell also found the same result for technical proficiency and musicality; in both cases, performers in the long dress were rated highest while performers in the short dress were rated lowest.

Post-evaluation interview findings revealed that most participants “were ashamed to find out that they had been unconsciously judging on dress and there was an element of shock which prompted introspection” (p. 433). One participant reflected, “My eyes tricked me into thinking I’m hearing things,” and another said, “Some of them sounded really different to me. […] How we look actually influences how we hear stuff” (p. 433)!

What does this mean for my classroom?

One interpretation of these research findings is that music educators and students should be conscious of their visual appearance when performing, including their clothing, hairstyle, and mannerisms. However, another interpretation is that unconscious bias is real and problematic. Rather than simply expecting performers to conform to the biases of the raters/judges, it is the responsibility of those in a position to evaluate others to examine their own potential unconscious biases and work to deconstruct them. The findings of this research indicate that unconscious bias toward women exists, as does policing of their dress, and this needs to be uncovered and eradicated. Other researchers have found that performance evaluation can be influenced by a performer’s race, gender, body size, attire (formal vs. casual), and stage deportment (e.g., engaged vs. disengaged facial expression, proper vs. improper body alignment, focused vs. wandering eye contact, etc.) (Davidson & Edgar, 2003; Elliott, 1995; Howard, 2012; VanWeelden, 2002). Evaluation forms/processes should be made as objective as possible in order to reduce the influence of bias, and evaluators should reflect on their own potential biases in order to move toward as fair and equitable a process as possible.


  • Davidson, J. W., & Edgar, R. (2003). Gender and race bias in the judgement of Western art music performance. Music Education Research5(2), 169–181. https://doi.org/10 .1080/1461380032000085540
  • Elliott, C. A. (1995). Race and gender as factors in judgments of musical performance. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education127, 50–56. https://www.jstor.org/ stable/40318766
  • Howard, S. A. (2012). The effect of selected nonmusical factors on adjudicators’ ratings of high school solo vocal performances. Journal of Research in Music Education60(2), 166–185. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022429412444610
  • VanWeelden, K. (2002). Relationships between perceptions of conducting effectiveness and ensemble performance. Journal of Research in Music Education50(2), 165–176. https:// doi.org/10.2307/3345820

RTRL.20: School Music Participation and Lifelong Arts Engagement (Elpus, 2018)


Elpus, K. (2018). Music education promotes lifelong engagement with the arts. Psychology of Music, 46(2), 155-173.

What did the researcher want to know?

Does participation in school-based music education affect the likelihood that students will engage in music performance or attend musical events as adults?

What did the researcher do?

Elpus analyzed data from the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. To examine musical creation/performance, he looked at respondents’ answers to items that asked whether they had played a musical instrument or performed/practiced any singing (alone or with others) in the previous 12 months. To examine music patronage, he examined respondents’ answers to items that asked whether they had attended live performance of classical music/opera or live jazz in the previous 12 months.

Elpus analyzed this data in relation to whether respondents participated in school music education (performance and/or appreciation). Elpus treated the study as quasi-experimental, using observable covariates to adjust for selection bias. In other words, he took into consideration the respondents’ answers to the following:

  • race/ethnicity
  • gender
  • education level
  • parent’s education level
  • household income (above or below $50,000)
  • region of the U.S. in which they lived

What did the researcher find?

According to descriptive statistics, 28% of respondents had participated in school-based music education. In the year prior to the survey, only 13% had attended live classical music/opera, 13% had played an instrument, and 10% had sung.

Those who had participated in school-based music education (performance or appreciation) were two to three times more likely to to play an instrument or sing as adults. Interestingly, there was no significant relationship between household income and musical creation/performance (after controlling for other variables). However, Elpus found that those with higher levels of education and those whose parents had attained higher levels of education were more likely to play an instrument, which corresponds with existing notions “that children of higher socioeconomic status (SES) parents are more likely to pursue instrumental music education, with parental education serving … as a blunt proxy for respondents’ family SES in childhood” (p. 165).

Those who participated in school-based music performance classes were 35% more likely to have attended classical music or opera performance than those who hadn’t participated in performance classes, while those who had taken music appreciation classes were 93% more likely to attend these events than those who hadn’t taken music appreciation classes. The likelihood that respondents had attended classical music/opera events increased significantly with education level; those holding bachelor’s degrees were over five times more likely to attend these performances than those with no high school diploma.

Compared to White respondents, African American adults were significantly less likely to report that they played an instrument or had attended classical music/opera but were 244% more likely to have attended live jazz.

What does this mean for my classroom?

If one of our aims as music educators is to foster in our students a lifelong connection with the arts, Elpus’s findings can reassure us that this goal is indeed being achieved for many. Furthermore, if we wish to increase lifelong engagement with the arts, we must be sure that all students have access to high-quality music education. 

However, the topics examined in this study focused on Euro-centric art music, with popular/vernacular forms of music largely ignored. We must continue to examine the kinds of musical experiences we offer in schools, who may or may not choose to participate in the courses offered, and how we might broaden our concept of school music to engage and better serve more students.