How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Preparation and Confirmation
Many functional actions are preceded by 'preparatory' action and followed by 'confirmatory' action (also known as 'head' and 'tail' activities), neither of which is strictly needed but which creates a comforting bracket around what may be an uncertain task.
The pattern of most actions is hence:
Preparatory action => Functional action ==> Confirmatory action
Preparatory action may be extended as a comforter when the person is anxious about completing the task satisfactorily. An example of this is the way tennis players bounce the ball several times before serving.
Confirmatory action may be extended and become more complex when the person is anxious or uncertain as to whether the functional action has been satisfactorily completed. Checking that the functional action is complete is a typical confirmatory action.
A person stops at their front door and wipes their feet on a mat (preparatory), opens the door and goes into the house (functional), then closes the door, giving it an extra push to make sure it is closed (confirmatory).
A doctor pauses and holds her head for a moment before talking to a patient (preparation), gives the patient the news (functional), then touches the patient's hand, bows her head and walks away, looking back with a smile (confirmatory).
Before going on stage, an actor goes through a set of rituals including kissing a lucky key and tapping the scenery three times with his left foot (preparatory). He then goes on stage and delivers his speech (functional). Afterwards, he kisses the scenery, says 'thank you' to the first person he sees and turns around twice before sitting down in his dressing room (confirmatory).
We do these actions all the time, often without noticing it. They provide familiarity, which offers comfort and certainty.
Preparatory and confirmatory actions are very common in superstitions, whether socially shared or individual. People who have a higher chance of failure in the functional action are likely to use more of these, such as actors and sports people.
At a more dysfunctional level, people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) often indulge in repetitive comforting actions, such as counting or cleaning. These may be seen as extended preparatory and confirmatory actions.
Understand a person's anxiety by analyzing their bracketing preparatory and confirmatory actions and the intensity of these. In this way, you can also discover signs of lying. Use these observations to decide on your interactions with the person.
If people do not use much preparatory or confirmatory action, they could be encouraged to help calm an anxious person. Changing their actions may also offer benefits, for example by reducing embarrassing or long actions.
Keren, H, Boyer, P, Mort, J, Eilam, D (2010). Pragmatic and Idiosyncratic Acts in Human Everyday Routines: The Counterpart of Compulsive Rituals, Behavioural Brain Research, 212, 90-95.