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.


Who’s the Better Judge of a Good Idea: You or Your Boss?

PAFF_062816_BrightIdeas_newsfeatureAfter the success of his movie American Graffiti, George Lucas pitched an idea for a little sci-fi flick called “The Star Wars” to several major film studios; United Artists, Universal Pictures, and Disney all passed on the ambitious project. Star Wars, which was produced for $11 million dollars in 1977, went on to become one of the biggest box office successes in the history of film. Adjusted for inflation, the Star Wars films have raked in over $21 billion dollars—a fact that has probably haunted all the studio executives who initially passed on the project.

“Betting on the most promising new ideas is key to creativity and innovation in organizations, but predicting the success of novel ideas can be difficult,” explains Stanford psychological scientist Justin M. Berg. “To select the best ideas, creators and managers must excel at ‘creative forecasting’—i.e., predicting…

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Workaholism Tied to Several Psychiatric Disorders

PAFF-062116_WorkaholismMentalHealth_newsfeatureThe Oxford English Dictionary credits the psychologist and theologian Wayne E. Oates with coining the term “workaholic.” As Oates outlined in a 1971 book on the subject, “the compulsion or the uncontrollable need to work incessantly” can take on obsessive qualities similar to those of an addiction-related disorder.

A large new study provides evidence that workaholism, along with harming wellbeing and health, also frequently co-occurs with clinical disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, and depression.

“Workaholics scored higher on all the psychiatric symptoms than non-workaholics,” the study authors report in the journal PLoS ONE.

An international team of psychological scientists from Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States recruited 16,426 adults living in Norway as participants in the study. Links to the research survey were publicly posted in online editions of five Norwegian…

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Cultivating Wisdom at Work

PAFF_061716_CultivatingWisdom_newsfeatureAs the tutor of Alexander the Great, the Greek philosopher Aristotle knew a thing or two about the qualities that a strong leader must possess. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle explains that all great leaders possess one specific trait: practical wisdom. Wisdom allows leaders to accurately size up a situation and make the best possible decisions for both themselves and others.

A recent study conducted by Igor Grossmann (University of Waterloo) and colleagues sought to answer a question about wisdom that has plagued philosophers ranging from Aristotle to Confucius: Is wisdom something we’re born with, or is it a quality that we can cultivate?

Grossmann has conducted several previous studies exploring the underlying qualities associated with wisdom. According to Grossmann and colleagues, wise reasoning is associated with “the ability to be observant, to see things within a larger context, flexibility, consideration of various…

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Memories of Unethical Actions Fade Faster

PAFF_061416_UnethicalAmnesia_newsfeatureThe collapse of the Enron Corporation is widely considered to be one of the worst business scandals of the 20th century. Former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay was eventually charged and convicted of multiple counts of criminal behavior, including conspiracy, fraud, and making false statements to banks. Although Lay’s actions resulted in thousands of employees losing both their jobs and their retirement savings when the company failed, he insisted that he was innocent of any wrongdoing. In an interview in 2004 he said, “I don’t fear jail because I know I’m not guilty. I know I did nothing wrong. I did nothing criminal.”

Despite thinking of themselves as upstanding and moral, many people still engage in shady—even illegal—business practices. Cases of ethical misconduct in business are estimated to cost society millions, even billions, of dollars every year. How do people like Kenneth Lay…

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Google Enlists Psychological Science to Fight Office Snack Attacks

PAFF_060916_GoogleSnackAttack_newsfeatureThe way to an employee’s heart might be through their stomach as much as their wallet. One recent survey of 1,000 people found that free food at work was associated with a 20% higher likelihood of feeling extremely or very happy with their jobs.

Silicon Valley tech companies have become famous for their lavish, free employee snacking options. At Google’s main campus in Mountain View, employees have access to over 30 different cafés serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as a variety of snacks. Google’s Toronto campus even has a “baconators” club where trained chefs prepare custom flavored bacon (as an example, Thai lemongrass, basil, and chili was one past flavor).

One of the problems with encouraging office snacking is that employees start to put on pounds. But taking snacks away completely—or replacing artisanal bacon products with celery and carrot…

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