Article | Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes

Don't Stop Believing: Rituals Improve Performance by Decreasing Anxiety

by Alison Wood Brooks, Julianna Schroeder, Jane Risen, Francesca Gino, Adam D. Galinsky, Michael I. Norton and Maurice Schweitzer

Abstract

From public speaking to first dates, people frequently experience performance anxiety. And when experienced immediately before or during performance, anxiety harms performance. Across a series of experiments, we explore the efficacy of a common strategy that people employ to cope with performance-induced anxiety: rituals. We define a ritual as a predefined sequence of symbolic actions often characterized by formality and repetition that lack direct instrumental purpose. Using different instantiations of rituals and measures of anxiety (both physiological and self-report), we find that enacting rituals improves performance in public and private performance domains by decreasing anxiety. Belief that a specific series of behaviors constitute a ritual is a critical ingredient to reduce anxiety and improve performance: engaging in behaviors described as a “ritual” improved performance more than engaging in the same behaviors described as “random behaviors.”

Keywords: Behavior; Performance; Emotions;

Citation:

Brooks, Alison Wood, Julianna Schroeder, Jane Risen, Francesca Gino, Adam D. Galinsky, Michael I. Norton, and Maurice Schweitzer. "Don't Stop Believing: Rituals Improve Performance by Decreasing Anxiety." Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 137 (November 2016): 71–85.