Tag Archives: reappraisal

Are You Excited Yet? Anxiety as Positive “Excitement” to Improve Performance

Alison Wood Brooks

Alison Wood Brooks

People can improve task performance in public speaking, mathematical problem solving, and karaoke singing, by reappraising anxiety as “excitement,” according to Harvard’s Alison Wood Brooks.

Using silent self-talk messages (“I am excited”) or reading self-direction messages (“Get excited!”) fosters an “opportunity mind-set” by increasing alignment between physical arousal and situational appraisal.

Jeremy Jamieson

“Excitement” is typically viewed as a positive, pleasant emotion that can improve performance, according to Harvard’s Jeremy Jamieson and colleagues.

In contrast, anxiety drains working memory capacity, and decreases self-confidence, self-efficacy, and performance before or during a task, according to Michael W. Eysenck of University of London.

Despite these differences, anxiety and excitement have similar physiological arousal profiles, but different effects on performance.

Michael Eysenck

Efforts to transform anxiety into calmness can be ineffective due to the large shift from negative emotion to neutral or positive emotion and from physiological activation to lower arousal levels, noted Brooks.

Stefan Hofmann

Stefan Hofmann

Such efforts to calm physiological arousal during anxiety can result in a paradoxical increase in the suppressed emotion, reported Stefan Hofmann and colleagues of Boston University.
However, most people in Woods’ studies said they believed that this is the best way to handle anxiety.

Stanley Schachter

Stanley Schachter

Physiological similarities can confuse experiences of anxiety and excitement, demonstrated in studies by Columbia’s Stanley Schacter and Jerome Singer of SUNY.
Anxiety’s similarity to excitement can be used to relabel high “anxiety” as “excitement.”
This shift can mitigate anxiety’s negative impact on performance.

Jerome Singer

Jerome Singer

Brooks elicited anxiety among volunteers by telling them that they their task was to present an impromptu, videotaped speech.

For some participants, she explained that it is “normal” to feel discomfort and asked them to “take a realistic perspective on this task by recognizing that there is no reason to feel anxiousand “the situation does not present a threat to you…there are no negative consequences...”
She also instructed volunteers to say aloud randomly-assigned self-statements like “I am excited.”

People who stated I am excitedbefore their speech were rated as more persuasive, more competent, more confident, and more persistent (spoke longer), than participants who said “I am calm.”

Brooks evaluated peoples’ reactions to another anxiety-provoking task, performing a karaoke song for an audience, and rated by voice recognition software for “singing accuracy” based on:

  • Volume (quiet-loud),
  • Pitch (distance from true pitch),
  • Note duration (accuracy of breaks between notes).

This score determined participants’ payment for participating in the study.

Before performing, she asked participants to make a randomly-assigned self-statement:

  • “I am anxious,”
  • “I am excited,”
  • “I am calm,”
  • “I am angry.”
  • “I am sad.”
  • No statement.

Following their performance, volunteers rated their anxiety, excitement, and confidence in their singing ability.
People who said that they were “excited” had higher pulse rates than other groups, confirming that self-statements can affect physical experiences of emotion.

Volunteers who said “I am excited” had the highest scores for singing accuracy and also for “singing self-efficacy”, a measure of confidence in ability.

In contrast, those who said, “I am anxious” had the lowest scores for singing accuracy, suggesting that anxiety is associated with lower performance.

Brooks elicited anxiety on “a very difficult IQ test…under time pressure” that would determine their payment for participation.
To evoke further anxiety, she concluded, “Good luck minimizing your loss.”

Before the test, participants read a statement:

  • “Try to remain calm” or
  • “Try to get excited.”

Those instructed to “get excited” produced more correct answers than those who tried to “remain calm.”

Reappraising anxiety as “excitement” increased the subjective experience of “excitement” instead of anxiety, and improved subsequent performance in each of these tasks.

Stéphane Côté

Stéphane Côté

These reappraisals of physical experiences evoked an “opportunity mind-set” and a stress-is-enhancing mind-set, found University of Toronto’s Stéphane Côté and Christopher Miners.
These appraisals enabled superior performance across different anxiety-arousing situations.

In contrast, inauthentic emotional displays can be physically and psychologically demanding, and often reduce performance.

People have “profound control and influence…over…emotions,” according to Woods.
She noted that “Saying “I am excited” represents a simple, minimal intervention…to prime an opportunity mind-set and improve performance…

Advising employees to say “I am excited” before important performance tasks or simply encouraging them to “get excited” may increase their confidence, improve performance, and boost beliefs in their ability to perform well in the future.”

 -*How effective have you found focusing on “excitement” instead of “calm” in managing anxiety?


©Kathryn Welds


Rationalisation: Coping or Complacency?

Sigmund Freud, Ernest Jones

Rationalisation was described by Freud biographer and psychoanalyst Ernest Jones as an unconscious maneuver to provide plausible explanations that manages unacceptable behavior, motives, or feelings.

Gil Diesendruck

Children as young as ages four to six demonstrated this tactic s in experiments by Bar-Ilan University’s Avi Benozio and Gil Diesendruck.

The research team suggested that children learned at young ages to “reframe” disappointing circumstances.
This approach is typically employed by older people to reduce uncomfortable cognitive dissonance, described in classic studies by New School’s Leon Festinger.

Leon Festinger

In Benozio’s and Diesendruck’s experiments, children three, four, five and six years old completed tasks in exchange for stickers that varied in attractiveness to each age group.

Participants could invest considerable effort or minimal work in activities ranging from reporting current age to closing eyes and counting “as far as possible,” then counting five more.
The children were permitted to keep these prizes or give them to another person.

Six year olds who invested substantial effort to obtain attractive rewards were less likely to relinquish stickers to others.

Elliot Aronson

When six year olds applied significant effort to obtain less desirable rewards, they also distributed fewer to others, but their reasoning differed.

They adjusted their appraisal of the less attractive stickers, judging these prizes as more appealing.
In contrast, four year olds discarded stickers rather than bolstering the value of the stickers they had.


These differences suggest that children learn to rationalize by age six and this strategy persists among adults, found Stanford’s Elliot Aronson and the U.S. Army’s Judson Mills.
Their studies validated Aesop‘s observation of “sweet lemons” and “sour grapes” in the well-known fable The Fox and the Grapes.

To check errors in inferring preference and rationalization from this type of study, UCLA’s Johanna M. Jarcho and Matthew D. Lieberman with Elliot T. Berkman of University of Oregon conducted fMRIs while participants completed decisions to test attitude change linked to cognitive dissonance.

Joanna Jarcho

Joanna Jarcho

Brain activity showed a significantly increased rapid reappraisal pattern used in emotional regulation, suggesting that rationalization may be an automatic coping mechanism rather than an unconscious defense mechanism.

Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr

Benozio and Diesendruck warned that this adaptive capacity could lead to complacent acceptance instead of working to change negative circumstances, articulated in the well-known Serenity Prayer attributed to Yale’s Reinhold Niebuhr:

…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

-*To what extent is rationalization a logical error?
-*How effective is rationalization as an emotional regulation strategy?

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©Kathryn Welds