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The power of rituals: they calm nerves and boost performance

26 January 2017

New research suggests that performing a ritual before anxiety-inducing tasks can have a significant beneficial effect.

Whether it's a sportsperson preparing for a cup final or an executive for a crucial interview, it's common for people to have short rituals that they perform ahead of situations involving high levels of anxiety or stress - and new research presented in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes suggests that it can be hugely beneficial.

The study, led by Alison Woods Brooks from Harvard Business School, investigated the effects of performing a short ritual ahead of two different tasks.

In the first, participants were told that they would have to sing part of Journey's classic rock ballad Don't Stop Believing in front of a stranger. Half of the participants were told to perform a short ritual ahead of the task, which helped to lower their increased heart rates back towards a normal level.

The second task investigated the significance of anxiety on the success of the ritual, with researchers finding that it only had a calming effect on participants who had been told that they were about to face "a very difficult IQ test", as opposed to some "fun maths puzzles".

Read more on our Research Digest blog.


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