Arbitrary Rituals Mute the Neural Response to Performance Failure: A Preregistered Experiment
46 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2016 Last revised: 27 Mar 2017
Date Written: September 9, 2016
Rituals are found in all types of performance domains, from high-stakes athletics and military to the daily morning preparations of the working family. And yet despite their ubiquity and widespread importance for humans, we know very little of ritual’s causal basis and how (if at all) they facilitate goal-directed performance. Here, in a fully pre-registered pre/post experimental design, we examine a candidate proximal mechanism, the error-related negativity (ERN), in testing the prediction that ritual modulates neural performance-monitoring. Participants completed an arbitrary ritual – novel actions repeated at home over one week – followed by an executive function task in the lab during electroencephalographic (EEG) recording. Results revealed that relative to pre-rounds, participants showed a reduced ERN in the post rounds, after completing the ritual in the lab. Despite a muted ERN, there was no evidence that the reduction in neural monitoring led to performance deficit. Generally, the findings are consistent with the longstanding view that ritual buffers against uncertainty and anxiety. Our results indicate that ritual guides goal-directed performance by regulating the brain’s response to personal failure.
Keywords: ritual; self-regulation; neural performance-monitoring; error-related negativity
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