Sunday, 29 December 2013

Interview and Present Better using EXCITEMENT!

Harvard researcher and assistant professor of Business Administration, Alison Wood, has conducted several experiments with Harvard University college students and local community members. Her experiments indicate that when we use simple statements about excitement - like "I am excited" - our performance improves when we do things that would normally make us anxious, like being interviewed or during presentations.

It goes against the grain, doesn't it. We should be CALM - keep calm and carry on - not pump ourselves up, right?

Well, no. According to Ms Brooks, “Anxiety is incredibly pervasive. People have a very strong intuition that trying to calm down is the best way to cope with their anxiety, but that can be very difficult and ineffective”. She says “When people feel anxious and try to calm down, they are thinking about all the things that could go badly. When they are excited, they are thinking about how things could go well. The way we talk about our feelings has a strong influence on how we actually feel” (APA, 23 December 2013). 

She has run many experiments to cross-check her results, using both genders and and has kept her research quite simple. She has used independent evaluators, videotaped her experiments and done pre- and post-testing. She has used a number of types of anxiety-provoking situations, including speeches where participants were judged on their performance, math tests and even karaoke!

  • 140 Speech experiment participants said “I am excited” or “I am calm”, with the 'excited' group giving longer, more persuasive, competent and relaxed speeches than the 'calm' group.
  • 188 math-problem solvers read either “try to get excited” or “try to remain calm” before tackling the problems, with a control group which didn’t get a statement. The 'excited' group scored 8% more than the calm and control groups, and also reported feeling more confident about their maths ability afterwards.
  • 113 karaoke singers were randomly given anxious, excited, calm, angry or sad statements before singing a song on a video game console (again with a no-statement control group), self-monitoring heart rates with a finger-sited pulse meter. The 'excited' group averaged an 80% song score from the video game’s rating system. The 'calm', 'angry' and 'sad' groups averaged 69%, the 'anxious' 53%. The 'excited' also said they felt more excited and confident about their singing ability.
(APA, 23 December 2013)

APA reports Ms Brooks as saying “When you feel anxious, you’re ruminating too much and focusing on potential threats,” she said. “In those circumstances, people should try to focus on the potential opportunities. It really does pay to be positive, and people should say they are excited. Even if they don’t believe it at first, saying ‘I’m excited’ out loud increases authentic feelings of excitement” (23 December 2013).

So there we go. Don't tell yourself you are calm before an interview. Tell yourself you are EXCITED!

  • APA (23 December 2013). Getting Excited Helps with Performance Anxiety More Than Trying to Calm Down, Study Finds. Retrieved 29 December 2013 from 
  • Brooks, Alison Wood PhD (2014). Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement. Journal of Experimental Psychology, in draft, forthcoming 2014.


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