Alison Wood Brooks

Assistant Professor of Business Administration

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.

  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.