May 15, 2013

ALL IN YOUR HEAD:

Little rituals really do work : New research reveals that the symbolic acts we perform aren't as irrational as they appear (FRANCESCA GINO AND MICHAEL I. NORTON, Scientific American)


Think about the last time you were about to interview for a job, speak in front of an audience, or go on a first date. To quell your nerves, chances are you spent time preparing - reading up on the company, reviewing your slides, practicing your charming patter. People facing situations that induce anxiety typically take comfort in engaging in preparatory activities, inducing a feeling of being back in control and reducing uncertainty.While a little extra preparation seems perfectly reasonable, people also engage in seemingly less logical behaviors in such situations. Here's one person's description from our research:I pound my feet strongly on the ground several times, I take several deep breaths, and I "shake" my body to remove any negative energies.  I do this often before going to work, going into meetings, and at the front door before entering my house after a long day.While we wonder what this person's co-workers and neighbors think of their shaky acquaintance, such rituals - the symbolic behaviors we perform before, during, and after meaningful event - are surprisingly ubiquitous, across culture and time. Rituals take an extraordinary array of shapes and forms. At times performed in communal or religious settings, at times performed in solitude; at times involving fixed, repeated sequences of actions, at other times not. People engage in rituals with the intention of achieving a wide set of desired outcomes, from reducing their anxiety to boosting their confidence, alleviating their grief to performing well in a competition - or even making it rain.

Recent research suggests that rituals may be more rational than they appear. Why? Because even simple rituals can be extremely effective. Rituals performed after experiencing losses - from loved ones to lotteries - do alleviate grief, and rituals performed before high-pressure tasks - like singing in public - do in fact reduce anxiety and increase people's confidence. What's more, rituals appear to benefit even people who claim not to believe that rituals work.

Posted by at May 15, 2013 7:06 PM
  

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