Stirling University study 'us versus them' mindset can be good

Dart throwing while blind, no concerns there Blindfolded participants were given different feedback to see how it affected performance

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Research by the University of Stirling suggests that an 'us-versus-them' mindset is not always a destructive force.

A new study found it can be the key to re-motivating and turning performance around.

Criticism from fellow team members could hurt how a participant performs, the research showed.

But external criticism can trigger a boost as people try to prove the outsiders wrong, it said.

The joint study was carried out by the University of Stirling, University of Exeter and Amherst College

The researchers said the results could apply both in the workplace and sport.

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 feedback from a university-affiliated researcher seemed to believe it and act on it: if it was discouraging, they failed at the next attempt, but if it was encouraging, they improved.

Defiant response

Receiving encouragement from a member of an external team following poor performance did not help individuals improve at their next attempt.

Start Quote

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”

End Quote Jessica Salvatore Amherst College

However, those who received poor feedback from an outsider were motivated to recover in an attempt to prove them wrong.

Co-author Dr Pete Coffee, lecturer in Sports Psychology at 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."

Tim Rees, of 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."

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