Emotional response to mistake found leading to more improvement: study

Source:Xinhua Published: 2017/9/18 8:17:21

A series of experiments have led to the finding that people who focus on their emotions following a failure put forth more effort when they try again.

In addition, while thinking about how to improve from past mistakes might help, the new study indicates that people who reflect on a failure do not tend to focus on ways to avoid a similar mistake.

However, conventional advice tells people not to feel bad about mistakes.

Published online in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, the study by researchers from the Ohio State University, the University of Kansas and Stanford University included several experiments.

In one, 98 college students were asked to price search online for a blender with specific characteristics, and with the possibility of winning a cash prize if they found the lowest price. Before they found out if they won, half the participants were told to focus on their emotional response to winning or losing, while the other half were instructed to focus on their thoughts about how they did.

The price search task was rigged, though, and all participants found out that the lowest price was 3.27 US dollars less than what they found. After writing about their failure afterward, as requested by the researchers, the students had a chance to redeem themselves.

The participants were given another task. Half were asked to search for a gift book for a friend that was the best fit for their limited college-student budget. Namely, they were looking for the lowest price, as instructed in the first task. The other half were given a non-similar task, which was to search for a book that would be the best choice as a gift for their friend.

The results showed emotional responses to failure motivated participants much more than cognitive ones when they were faced with a similar task. Emotionally motivated participants spent nearly 25 percent more time searching for a low-priced book than did participants who had only thought about their earlier failure. Meanwhile, there was no significant difference in effort made by participants when the second task wasn't like the first.

In a similar experiment, the researchers didn't tell some participants how to respond to their failures. They found that these people tended to produce cognitive responses rather than emotional ones, and those cognitive responses were the kinds that protected themselves rather than focused on self-improvement.

One reason why an emotional response may be more effective is the nature of people's thoughts about their mistakes. When analyzing what participants who thought about their failure wrote about, the researchers found significantly more self-protective thoughts than they did self-improvement thoughts.

Selin Malkoc, co-author of the study and professor of marketing at the Ohio State University, noted that in most real-life situations, people probably have both cognitive and emotional responses to their failures. The important thing to remember is not to avoid the emotional pain of failing, but to use that pain to fuel improvement.

"Emotional responses to failure can hurt. They make you feel bad. That's why people often choose to think self-protective thoughts after they make mistakes," she was quoted as saying in a news release.

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