Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Aug. 24, 2018.
A new study from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, shows that trash talk can help you perform better—but only on certain tasks, Elizabeth Bernstein writes for the Wall Street Journal.
Researchers at the Wharton School performed six experiments involving approximately 1,000 participants, who were told they'd be paired up to compete against another person in a task. One person in each pair was actually a researcher, but the participants weren't informed of that fact.
Before they began their task, participants were asked to chat with their partner online. Some participants received neutral messages from their partners, such as, "Hey, it looks like we will be competing against each other in the next task." Others received trash-talk statements such as, "You are a total loser."
The participants in the study would then perform their assigned tasks, some of which measured persistence while others measured creativity or the ability to work well as a team.
In one study, for instance, participants performed a "slider task" that required them to move a cursor on a computer quickly towards a targeted number. In another task, participants tackled a "candle problem" in which they received several supplies—a candle, a pack of matches, and a box of tacks—and were asked to come up with a way to attach the candle to the wall without letting it drip on the table or floor below. This task measured creativity.
The researchers told all of the participants that they could win money.
The researchers discovered that trash talk's effect on participants varied depending on the task they were asked to complete.
For participants whose tasks required them to exert extra effort, trash talk actually helped. These participants reported feeling more rivalry—although they also were more likely to cheat.
But for tasks that measured creativity or required participants to work with a partner, trash talk led to worse performance—possibly due to the distraction created by anger.
Both men and women reacted similarly when confronted with trash talk.
According to Bernstein, the study has implications both for people who give trash talk and for those who receive it.
For those giving trash talk:
For those receiving trash talk:
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