High Maintenance Interaction

Study 3 used the same design as study 2, but with a somewhat different paradigm. In this study, the participant worked together with a confederate as well, but this time they had to find their way through a maze by following the instructions of the confederate. Again, the participants who were given clear, easy instructions performed better on the GRE-questions than the participants who tried to follow the poorly given instructions.

Study 4 showed that this pattern could also be found when participants were asked to provide guidance or comfort to an emotionally distressed stranger, who was actually the confederate. In the high-maintenance condition (the responses of the confederate were pessimistic and non-receptive of the participants’ suggestions) the participants showed less self-regulation in a following task than in the low-maintenance condition (the confederate was less pessimistic and more receptive to the participants’ guidance). Interestingly, when the participants were asked whether they found the interaction with the other high- or low-maintaining, there was no difference between the conditions. This suggests that high-maintenance interaction can impair self-regulation, even when individuals don’t realise they experienced a high-maintenance interaction in the first place. 

Study 5 supported this assumption by showing the same pattern of results for participants interacting with a confederate who communicated non-verbally poorly or smoothly. In this study, the participants had really no idea that this interaction was high-maintenance, since it happened at an unconscious level. The culmination of these studies allowed the authors to conclude that high-maintenance interaction causes worse performance on individual tasks that demand self-regulation, like exam questions, and that this happens outside of conscious awareness.

So, how does this solve my dilemma concerning the perfect exam preparation? First of all, let’s assume that talking to a nerd is a form of high-maintenance interaction. This is probably caused by effortful communication and poor directions. Or, in another case, when you do understand the nerd’s explanations and you feel like you have a smooth interaction going on, there’s a considerable chance the nonverbal communication is poor. This could be due to the difference in communication skills between you and the nerd, or perhaps to the fact that he is sick of you taking advantage of his knowledge when you’ve never spoken to him before. Secondly, since an exam involves complex thinking, performing well on the task requires self-regulation. So, what to do in the minutes before you take that important maths exam you have studied well for but are still insecure about? Instead of talking to the smartest guy who has the stuff all figured out but is impossible to follow, just turn to the people you usually turn to: your friends. Having a complicated talk with the biggest nerd around will not only make you insecure about your own abilities, it might even result in a lower grade. Although your friends will probably not provide you with great final insights, they will make you perform at your full capacity, by bringing out the best in you.



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