Feel free to fidget ... but only if you’re male!

Fidgeting in interviews improves the performance of men, but hampers that of women

Posted: 14 February 2013

image for news story Feel free to fidget ... but only if you’re male!

New research out today reveals that all may not be equal between the sexes when it comes to coping with the stress of job interviews, and delivering that all-important perfect performance. The study by scientists at the University of Roehampton found that in tense situations, fidgeting - nervous behaviours like scratching, lip biting and face touching - seems to relax men and allows them to perform to the best of their abilities, whilst having exactly the opposite effect on women. In the current ultra-competitive job market, this could make the difference between success and failure.

In a simulated job interview, men and women were put through their paces in front of two interviewers. They were required to give a five minute presentation about why they were the best candidate for the job, and then undertake a five minute mental arithmetic test. The ‘applicants’ were closely monitored throughout, with the scientists measuring their heart rate and arithmetic performance and then taking feedback on how stressed they had felt by the test.

The results, published in the journal PLOS ONE, were surprising. Although men fidgeted twice as much as women during the presentation, they made far fewer mistakes in the arithmetic test and felt significantly less stressed about the whole experience. For men, those who fidgeted the most actually performed better in the test and felt more relaxed. For women, on the other hand, fidgeters made a lot more mistakes and felt much more stressed.

Professor Changiz Mohiyeddini of the University of Roehampton said: “Our study provides unique insights into the way that men and women differ in coping with the pressure of a job interview. It seems that men have an effective behavioural strategy – fidgeting - to combat their nervousness, but for women, the same behaviour actually makes things much worse. These findings could significantly change the way that people approach interviews”.

According to study co-author Dr Stuart Semple, “The classic advice for interviews is not to fidget, and for women this seems to be spot on. For men, though, fidgeting appears to be beneficial. There is always the concern that employers are put off by a fidgeting applicant, but there are ways round this. Instead of touching the face or biting the lip conspicuously, moving the legs or tapping your hands silently under the table may work just as well”.

The Roehampton team now plan to explore why fidgeting has such different effects on men and women, and to investigate the impacts of actively suppressing fidgeting on stress levels. 

The paper by Mohiyeddini, Bauer and Semple ‘Displacement behaviour is associated with reduced stress levels among men but not women’ is published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE. The paper can be found here.

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