Psychological Science at Work


The indispensable research blog on the science of the modern workplace, covering everything from leadership and management to the behavioral, social, and cognitive dynamics behind performance and achievement.


Both Stars and Blunderers Get Bullied at Work

Every school has star pupils who, because of their top grades or their athletic talents, draw resentment and scorn from their classmates instead of admiration. The same phenomenon often occurs in the workplace, as well. Top performers who get promotions and awards also get the contempt from co-workers. While low performers are typically the targets of bullying from their co-workers, studies show that people tagged by their peers as aces are also victimized in one way or another.

Social scientists posit that both high and poor performers become targets of aggression because they violate implicit norms of acceptable performance. The virtuosos leave their colleagues feeling inferior, and the poor performers jeopardize the group’s success.

But are these employees also unknowingly behaving in ways that lead to their mistreatment? A team of…

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Cognitive Motor Skills Start to Fall Before Age 25

Today’s college graduates may enter the workforce with a lot of naiveté about business protocol and negotiation skills, but their technical prowess is arguably unprecedented. These are individuals who grew up with the Internet and the advent of smartphones, tablets, Wi-Fi, Twitter, and online multiplayer games. They’re the people you turn to when you need to develop a social media strategy or a new app for your customers.

But the technical skills that millennials bring to the office are not only generationally based, a new psychological study shows. People over 24 years of age have already reached their peak cognitive motor skills — including those used to learn new computer skills.

In one of the first social science experiments to rest on big data, doctoral students supported by Mark Blair, associate professor of cognitive science in the Simon Fraser University psychology department, investigated…

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Wage Disparity and the Masculinity of Money

The US Senate failed yesterday to pass legislation that would amplify women’s ability to sue their employers when they earn less than male colleagues for equal work. Democrats argue that the existing laws aren’t enough, pointing to figures showing women making 77 cents for every dollar that men earn. Republicans opposed the measure, arguing that the pay-gap figures are misleading and that federal law already makes pay discrimination illegal.

But beneath the statistics and political debate are some psychological factors that appear to perpetuate the pay inequities no matter what the law says. In a study published a few years ago, a team of researchers showed that people tend to unconsciously equate males with wealth, which may unintentionally lead to higher pay for men than for women.

In the study, Melissa Williams,…

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How the Language in Job Ads Affects the Quality of Applicants

It’s the bane of every hiring manager — a deep pool of job applicants with a shallow set of skills and qualifications.

But the stack of mediocre résumés doesn’t reflect a dearth in available talent, necessarily. It may simply be the result of the language used in the advertisement for the opening. Ads have a better chance of drawing excellent candidates when they emphasize what the job offers, rather than what it requires, according to the results of a new psychological study.

The research is based on the premise that job seekers are attracted to positions that suit not only their need for a paycheck, but their psychological needs for fulfillment and achievement, as well. Psychological scientist Joseph A. Schmidt of the University of Saskatchewan and his colleagues hypothesized that recruiters…

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Your Personality and Career Sculpt Each Other

Some people seem destined for their careers. Their goals, ambitions, and personality traits just make them cut out for a certain position — fit for the job.

People who are naturally extroverted, for instance, tend to find themselves in jobs where they can take advantage of that inclination — jobs with a social component, like sales. Likewise, those who are particularly open to new experiences might be more likely to find themselves in jobs which require a creative or artistic component.

But could the opposite also be true? Could our jobs actually affect our personality traits? It might seem logical that people who are initially extroverted take on managerial jobs and then become more extroverted, self-confident, or communicative as a result. But at the same time, it’s also possible that the…

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