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.


Amazon’s Mistake: Mixing Creative Conflict With Animosity

newsfeature“Of all [Jeff Bezos’] management notions, perhaps the most distinctive is his belief that harmony is often overvalued in the workplace — that it can stifle honest critique and encourage polite praise for flawed ideas. Instead, Amazonians are instructed to “disagree and commit” (No. 13) — to rip into colleagues’ ideas, with feedback that can be blunt to the point of painful, before lining up behind a decision.” – New York Times

Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos may want to read up on some new findings from psychological science: conflict can enhance creativity, but not all conflict is good for business.

Teams can benefit from looking at a problem with a critical eye, even if that means someone’s feelings get hurt in the process. However, research has also shown that not all conflict is created equal; once conflict gets personal, it begins to…

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Microlending Success Starts with a Smile

PAFF_081915_MicrolendingSmile_newsfeatureThe economist Muhammad Yunus was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 in recognition for his pioneering work in microlending – making small loans available to people living in poverty.

Yunus believed that entrepreneurs in rural, impoverished areas needed the same things as any other business—capital to get their small businesses started and growing. These entrepreneurs are frequently unable to get loans through traditional banking institutions. Through microlending, someone in Montana can help finance a small $500 loan so that an aspiring tailoring business in Tajikistan can invest in buying more sewing machines.

Like a typical bank loan, microlenders expect to be repaid with interest, although it’s typically at much lower interest rates than traditional banks. There’s no guarantee that lenders will recoup their investment.

Stanford University psychological scientists Alexander Genevsky and Brian Knutson wanted to investigate the factors that led people…

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Credit Screenings Lead to Unfair Hiring

PAFF_081115_CreditChecksHiring_newsfeatureChecking up on a job applicant’s financial history has become a common practice in hiring — even for service industry jobs like serving frozen yogurt or driving a delivery truck.

Employers might assume that a job candidate’s financial history provides a real-world measure of their trustworthiness and reliability. However, new research contends that screening candidates based on credit checks does little to ensure quality hires, and instead often leads to discrimination.

The analysis, from University of New Mexico psychological scientist Sabrina Volpone and her colleagues, suggests that basing job selection decisions off of credit scores may unfairly—and perhaps even illegally—disadvantage black applicants.

Credit reports are designed to allow banks and other financial lenders to assess someone’s history of paying their debts—student loans, credit card bills, mortgage payments—before offering terms for a loan. Even when income, education, and marital status are controlled…

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Cold Offices Linked to Lower Productivity

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Companies may want to turn up the thermostat. Blasting the air conditioning doesn’t just run up energy bills, it may also be running up costs in lost worker productivity.

In a small field study from 2004, Cornell University psychological scientist Alan Hedge determined that workers are more efficient when they’re warm.

Hedge and colleagues carefully tracked the productivity of nine women working at an insurance office in Orlando, Florida. Their workstations were equipped with air samplers that recorded the temperature every 15 minutes. Productivity was tracked by software that measured their typing speed and errors for 20 consecutive days.

The results showed that the women were significantly more productive when their office was kept at a warmer temperature. At 77° F (25° C), the women were typing 100% of the time with a 10% error rate. But, when the temperature dipped…

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At Face Value: Certain Facial Features Inspire Trust

PAFF_080515_FacesValueTrust_newsfeatureWe often think of building trust as a slow, gradual process that can take weeks, months, or even years. Instead, a recent study suggests that trust may emerge—or not—after a quick glimpse of someone’s face.

Across three experiments, Brian Holtz of Temple University found that CEOs with certain facial features were immediately assessed as more trustworthy, and were less likely to get the blame when a company’s financial situation took a dive.

In one online study, over 600 participants (all working adults) read a short fictional biography for the CEO of a start-up company. Participants were then asked to imagine themselves as employees of this company before rating how trustworthy they thought the CEO was.

The bio was accompanied by a headshot of the CEO, which was actually taken from a standardized set of faces that had been previously assessed for trustworthiness.…

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