New research shows that people can recover from poor performance when rivals comment on their failures. The research, to be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, shows that while criticism from team members sends individuals into downward performance spirals, external criticism can be a trigger that boosts performance as people try to prove the outsiders wrong. The research carried out by the University of Exeter, Amherst College and the University of Stirling offers a method of improving performance following setbacks and can be applied both in the workplace and in sport to avoid poor performance snowballing out of control.
Lead author Dr Tim Rees of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Exeter said: "Careful management of performance following failure is of key importance in a range of areas such as sport and business. The study shows that simple, low cost, measures that exploit the effects of intergroup dynamics can reverse downward performance spirals by encouraging a 'them and us' mentality."
During the study blindfolded participants threw darts at a dartboard and then received poor performance feedback either from a university-affiliated researcher or from an external researcher from a rival university. Participants who received this feedback from a university-affiliated researcher seemed to believe it and enact it: if it was discouraging, they failed at the next attempt, but if it was encouraging, they improved. Receiving encouragement from a member of an external team following poor performance did not help individuals improve at their next attempt. Yet those who received the poor performance
feedback from an outsider were motivated to recover from the poor performance in an attempt to prove them wrong. "Downward performance spirals can be readily observed in every domain of human performance," said co-author Jessica Salvatore of Amherst College. "Our research shows that the 'us-versus-them' mindset isn't always a destructive force – sometimes it can be the key to re-motivating yourself and turning your performance around."
Co-author Pete Coffee from the University of Stirling said: "The research not only highlights ways to improve performance but also demonstrates the positive and negative impact that encouragement and criticism from fellow group members can have. This work points to the need for people like sports coaches and business leaders to think carefully about the way they deliver performance-related feedback."
For further information:
Dr Jo Bowler, University of Exeter Press Office
+44 (0)1392 722062
About the University of Exeter
The Sunday Times University of the Year 2012-13, the University of Exeter is a Russell Group university and in the top one percent of institutions globally. It combines world-class research with very high levels of student satisfaction. Exeter has over 18,000 students and is ranked 7th in The Sunday Times University Guide, 10th in the UK in The Times Good University Guide 2012 and10th in the Guardian University Guide. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) 90% of the University's research was rated as being at internationally recognised levels and 16 of its 31 subjects are ranked in the top 10, with 27 subjects ranked in the top 20.
The University has invested strategically to deliver more than £350 million worth of new facilities across its campuses for 2012, including landmark new student services centres - the Forum in Exeter and The Exchange in Cornwall - and world-class new facilities for Biosciences, the Business School and the Environment and Sustainability Institute.
About Amherst College
Founded in 1821, Amherst is a highly selective, coeducational liberal arts college with 1,800 students from most of the 50 states and more than 30 other countries. Considered one of the nation's best educational institutions, Amherst awards the B.A. degree in 37 fields of study. Sixty percent of Amherst students receive need-based financial aid.
About the University of Stirling
Founded by Royal Charter in 1967, the University of Stirling was the first genuinely new university in Scotland for over 400 years. We retain our pioneering spirit and a passion for innovation and excellence in all we do. We aim to be at the forefront of research and learning that helps to improve lives. Working with academic, commercial, public, private and voluntary sector partners, Stirling is one of the UK's leading research universities in the fields of health and wellbeing, the environment and people, culture and society, enterprise and the economy, and sport.
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