Alison Wood Brooks

Assistant Professor of Business Administration

Unit: Negotiation, Organizations & Markets

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(617) 495-6670

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Alison Wood Brooks is an assistant professor of business administration in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit at Harvard Business School. She teaches the Negotiation course in the MBA elective curriculum and is affiliated with the Behavioral Insights Group at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership.

In her research, Professor Brooks focuses on how emotions influence cognition and behavior, particularly in the workplace. Much of her work examines the behavioral consequences of anxiety, and how individuals can regulate their anxious feelings. Her research has been published in leading academic journals, including the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, and Psychological Science, and has been featured in media outlets such as The New York Times, The Economic Times, The Huffington Post, and CIO Magazine.

Professor Brooks holds a Ph.D. in decision processes from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and a bachelor's degree in psychology and finance from Princeton University.

Featured Work

  1. Investors Prefer Entrepreneurial Ventures Pitched by Attractive Men

    Entrepreneurship is a central path to job creation, economic growth, and prosperity. In the earliest stages of start-up business creation, the matching of entrepreneurial ventures to investors is critically important. The entrepreneur’s business proposition and previous experience are regarded as the main criteria for investment decisions. Our research, however, documents other critical criteria that investors use to make these decisions: the gender and physical attractiveness of the entrepreneurs themselves. Across a field setting (three entrepreneurial pitch competitions in the United States) and two experiments, we identify a profound and consistent gender gap in entrepreneur persuasiveness. Investors prefer pitches presented by male entrepreneurs compared with pitches made by female entrepreneurs, even when the content of the pitch is the same. This effect is moderated by male physical attractiveness: attractive males were particularly persuasive, whereas physical attractiveness did not matter among female entrepreneurs.
  2. Get Excited

    Individuals often feel anxious in anticipation of tasks such as speaking in public or meeting with a boss. I find that an overwhelming majority of people believe trying to calm down is the best way to cope with pre-performance anxiety. However, across several studies involving karaoke singing, public speaking, and math performance, I investigate an alternative strategy: reappraising anxiety as excitement. Compared with those who attempt to calm down, individuals who reappraise their anxious arousal as excitement feel more excited and perform better. Individuals can reappraise anxiety as excitement using minimal strategies such as self-talk (e.g., saying “I am excited” out loud) or simple messages (e.g., “get excited”), which lead them to feel more excited, adopt an opportunity mind-set (as opposed to a threat mind-set), and improve their subsequent performance. These findings suggest the importance of arousal congruency during the emotional reappraisal process.

  3. I'm Sorry about the Rain!

    Existing apology research has conceptualized apologies as a device to rebuild relationships following a transgression. Individuals, however, often apologize for circumstances for which they are obviously not culpable (e.g., heavy traffic or bad weather). In this article, we define superfluous apologies as expressions of regret for an undesirable circumstance for which the apologizer is clearly not responsible. Across four studies, we find that superfluous apologies increase trust in the apologizer. This effect is mediated by empathic concern. Issuing a superfluous apology demonstrates empathic concern for the victim and increases the victim’s trust in the apologizer.

  4. Anxiety, Advice and the Ability to Discern

    Across eight experiments, the influence of anxiety on advice seeking and advice taking is described. Anxious individuals are found to be more likely to seek and rely on advice than are those in a neutral emotional state, but this pattern of results does not generalize to other negatively valenced emotions. The relationships between anxiety and advice seeking and anxiety and advice taking are mediated by self-confidence; anxiety lowers self-confidence, which increases advice seeking and reliance upon advice. Although anxiety also impairs information processing, impaired information processing does not mediate the relationship between anxiety and advice taking. Finally, anxious individuals are found to fail to discriminate between good and bad advice, and between advice from advisors with and without a conflict of interest.

  5. Overcoming Nervous Nelly

    In situations from business negotiations to karaoke, Alison Wood Brooks explores the harmful effects of anxiety on performance—and how to combat them.

Publications

Journal Articles

  1. Investors Prefer Entrepreneurial Ventures Pitched by Attractive Men

    Entrepreneurship is a central path to job creation, economic growth, and prosperity. In the earliest stages of start-up business creation, the matching of entrepreneurial ventures to investors is critically important. The entrepreneur’s business proposition and previous experience are regarded as the main criteria for investment decisions. Our research, however, documents other critical criteria that investors use to make these decisions: the gender and physical attractiveness of the entrepreneurs themselves. Across a field setting (three entrepreneurial pitch competitions in the United States) and two experiments, we identify a profound and consistent gender gap in entrepreneur persuasiveness. Investors prefer pitches presented by male entrepreneurs compared with pitches made by female entrepreneurs, even when the content of the pitch is the same. This effect is moderated by male physical attractiveness: attractive males were particularly persuasive, whereas physical attractiveness did not matter among female entrepreneurs.

    Keywords: Prejudice and Bias; Entrepreneurship; Investment; Gender Characteristics;

    Citation:

    Brooks, Alison Wood, Laura Huang, Sarah Wood Kearney, and Fiona Murray. "Investors Prefer Entrepreneurial Ventures Pitched by Attractive Men." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111, no. 10 (March 10, 2014).
  2. Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement

    Individuals often feel anxious in anticipation of tasks such as speaking in public or meeting with a boss. I find that an overwhelming majority of people believe trying to calm down is the best way to cope with pre-performance anxiety. However, across several studies involving karaoke singing, public speaking, and math performance, I investigate an alternative strategy: reappraising anxiety as excitement. Compared to those who attempt to calm down, individuals who reappraise their anxious arousal as excitement feel more excited and perform better. Individuals can reappraise anxiety as excitement using minimal strategies such as self-talk (e.g., saying "I am excited" out loud) or simple messages (e.g., "get excited"), which lead them to feel more excited, adopt an opportunity mindset (as opposed to a threat mindset), and improve their subsequent performance. These findings suggest the importance of arousal congruency during the emotional reappraisal process.

    Keywords: Opportunities; Attitudes; Performance;

    Citation:

    Brooks, Alison Wood. "Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement." Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (forthcoming). (Received Outstanding Dissertation Award by International Association for Conflict Management 2013.)
  3. I'm Sorry About the Rain! Superfluous Apologies Demonstrate Empathic Concern and Increase Trust

    Existing apology research has conceptualized apologies as a device to rebuild relationships following a transgression. As a result, apology research has failed to investigate the use of apologies for outcomes for which individuals are obviously not culpable (e.g., apologies for heavy traffic or bad weather). In this paper, we define superfluous apologies as expressions of regret for an undesirable circumstance for which the apologizer is clearly not responsible. Across four studies, we find that issuing a superfluous apology demonstrates empathic concern, which motivates an increase in trust and liking.

    Keywords: superfluous apology; apology; trust; benevolence-based trust; empathy; stochastic trust game; Trust; Emotions; Societal Protocols;

    Citation:

    Brooks, Alison Wood, Hengchen Dai, and Maurice E. Schweitzer. "I'm Sorry About the Rain! Superfluous Apologies Demonstrate Empathic Concern and Increase Trust." Social Psychological & Personality Science (in press).
  4. Can Nervous Nelly Negotiate? How Anxiety Causes Negotiators to Make Low First Offers, Exit Early, and Earn Less Profit

    Negotiations trigger anxiety. Across four studies, we demonstrate that anxiety is harmful to negotiator performance. In our experiments, we induced either anxiety or neutral feelings and studied behavior in negotiation and continuous shrinking-pie tasks. Compared to negotiators experiencing neutral feelings, negotiators who feel anxious expect lower outcomes, make lower first offers, respond more quickly to offers, exit bargaining situations earlier, and ultimately obtain worse outcomes. The relationship between anxiety and negotiator behavior is moderated by negotiator self-efficacy; high self-efficacy mitigates the harmful effects of anxiety.

    Keywords: Behavior; Negotiation Participants; Outcome or Result; Emotions;

    Citation:

    Brooks, Alison Wood, and Maurice E. Schweitzer. "Can Nervous Nelly Negotiate? How Anxiety Causes Negotiators to Make Low First Offers, Exit Early, and Earn Less Profit." Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 115, no. 1 (May 2011): 43–54. (Awarded Best Paper with a Student as First Author by the International Association for Conflict Management, 2010.)
  5. Anxiety, Advice, and the Ability to Discern: Feeling Anxious Motivates Individuals to Seek and Use Advice

    Across eight experiments, we describe the influence of anxiety on advice seeking and advice taking. We find that anxious individuals are more likely to seek and rely on advice than are those in a neutral emotional state (Experiment 1), but this pattern of results does not generalize to other negatively-valenced emotions (Experiment 2). The relationships between anxiety and advice seeking and anxiety and advice taking are mediated by self-confidence; anxiety lowers self-confidence, which increases advice seeking and reliance upon advice (Experiment 3). Though anxiety also impairs information processing, impaired information processing does not mediate the relationship between anxiety and advice taking (Experiment 4). Finally, we find that anxious individuals fail to discriminate between good and bad advice (Experiment 5a-c), and between advice from advisors with and without a conflict of interest (Experiment 6).

    Keywords: Motivation and Incentives;

    Citation:

    Gino, F., Alison Wood Brooks, and M. Schweitzer. "Anxiety, Advice, and the Ability to Discern: Feeling Anxious Motivates Individuals to Seek and Use Advice." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 102, no. 3 (March 2012): 497–512.
  6. How Implicit Beliefs Influence Trust Recovery

    After a trust violation, some people are quick to forgive, whereas others never trust again. In this report, we identify a key characteristic that moderates trust recovery: implicit beliefs of moral character. Individuals who believe that moral character can change over time (incremental beliefs) are more likely to trust their counterpart following an apology and trustworthy behavior than are individuals who believe that moral character cannot change (entity beliefs).We demonstrate that a simple but powerful message can induce either entity or incremental beliefs about moral character.

    Keywords: Values and Beliefs; Trust;

    Citation:

    Haselhuhn, Michael, Maurice E. Schweitzer, and Alison M. Wood. "How Implicit Beliefs Influence Trust Recovery." Psychological Science vol. 21, no. 5 (May 2010): 645–648.

Working Papers

  1. Don’t Stop Believing: Coping with Anxiety Through Rituals

    Citation:

    Brooks, Alison Wood, Juliana Schroeder, Jane Risen, Francesca Gino, Adam Galinsky, Michael I. Norton, and Maurice E. Schweitzer. "Don’t Stop Believing: Coping with Anxiety Through Rituals." Working Paper, August 2013.
  2. Glad to be Mad: When Negotiators Strategically Choose to Feel Angry

    Citation:

    Brooks, Alison Wood, Simone Moran, Maurice E. Schweitzer, and Yoella Bereby-Myer. "Glad to be Mad: When Negotiators Strategically Choose to Feel Angry." Working Paper, August 2013.
  3. Worry at Work: How Anxiety Can Energize, Direct, and Sustain Effort in the Workplace

    Citation:

    Levine, Emma E., Alison Wood Brooks, and Maurice E. Schweitzer. "Worry at Work: How Anxiety Can Energize, Direct, and Sustain Effort in the Workplace." Working Paper, August 2013.
  4. Smart People Ask for (My) Advice: Seeking Advice Boosts Perceptions of Competence

    Although individuals can derive substantial benefits from exchanging information and ideas, many individuals are reluctant to seek advice from others. We find that people are reticent to seek advice for fear of appearing incompetent. This fear, however, is misplaced. We demonstrate that individuals perceive those who seek advice as more competent than those who do not. This effect is moderated by task difficulty and advisor ego. Individuals perceive those who seek advice as more competent when the task is difficult than when it is easy, and when people seek advice from them personally than when they seek advice from others.

    Keywords: Behavior; Cognition and Thinking;

    Citation:

    Brooks, Alison Wood, Francesca Gino, and Maurice E. Schweitzer. "Smart People Ask for (My) Advice: Seeking Advice Boosts Perceptions of Competence." Working Paper, July 2013.

    Research Summary

  1. Overview

    Professor Brooks studies topics at the intersection of emotion, cognition, and behavior. Much of her research has focused on anxiety, one of the most pervasive emotions experienced in the workplace. She focuses on state anxiety, which is triggered by the potential for adverse consequences, rather than anxiety as a personality trait, and she investigates both the intrapersonal experience and interpersonal expression of anxiety. Professor Brooks’ work on anxiety—and other emotions such as anger, excitement, calmness, envy, admiration, pity, and disgust—has led her to examine how individuals navigate interpersonal interaction in the workplace more broadly. For example, she also studies trust, which involves overcoming social anxiety and making oneself vulnerable to others. Her work points to the importance of understanding and exercising emotional intelligence at work, and to ways people can regulate their emotions strategically to make themselves and their organizations more effective.

    Keywords: Anxiety; Emotion; Emotion Regulation; Reappraisal; negotiation; trust; Performance;

    Teaching

  1. Negotiation

    Managerial success requires the ability to negotiate. Whether you are forging an agreement with your suppliers, trying to ink a deal with potential customers, raising money from investors, managing a conflict inside your firm, or resolving a dispute that is headed towards litigation, your ability to negotiate will determine how well you perform.

    Because others do not have the same interests, perspectives, and values as you, negotiation skill is critical-professionally and personally. This course will enable you to become a more effective negotiator.

    Awards & Honors

  1. Alison Wood Brooks: Received the 2013 International Association for Conflict Management (IACM) Outstanding Dissertation Award for “Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement” (Wharton School).

  2. Alison Wood Brooks: Awarded a 2010-2013 Winkelman Fellowship from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

  3. Alison Wood Brooks: Awarded a Wharton Risk Center Russell Ackoff Doctoral Student Fellowship Award for 2009-2013.

  4. Alison Wood Brooks: Winner of the 2010 Best Conference Paper with a Student as First Author from the International Association for Conflict Management (IACM) for the paper with M.E. Schweitzer, “Can Nervous Nelly Negotiate? How Anxiety Causes Negotiators to Exit Early and Make Steep Concessions” (published as “Can Nervous Nelly Negotiate? How Anxiety Causes Negotiators to Make Low First Offers, Exit Early, and Earn Less Profit" Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 2011).

  5. Alison Wood Brooks: Received the 2009 Operations and Information Management (OPIM) Scholar Award from the Wharton School.

  6. Alison Wood Brooks: Awarded the 2008 Princeton University Miller-Schroeder Memorial Thesis Prize.

  7. Alison Wood Brooks: Member of the Sigma Xi Psychology Honor Society.

  8. Alison Wood Brooks: Received a 2006-2008 National Science Foundation Undergraduate Research Grant.

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Harvard Magazine
05/01/2014

Erin O'Donnell

Huffington Post
03/31/2014

Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani

U.S. News & World Report
03/27/2014

Alan Neuhauser

Fast Company
03/11/2014

Lindsay Lavine

Nature
03/10/2014

Andreas von Bubnoff

Men'sHealth.com
01/03/2014

Markham Heid

Wall Street Journal (online)
12/31/2013

Lauren Weber

Boston Globe
12/24/2013

Deborah Kotz

CBS Money Watch
11/01/2013

Suzanne Lucas

Men'sHealth.com
10/21/2013

Markham Heid

New York Times
11/09/2013

Matt Richtel