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.

Leading While Female: Prepare for Backlash

PAFF_021116_BackdoorBacklash_newsfeatureAsking for a promotion, negotiating for a raise, or speaking up about concerns may help a male employee get ahead, but a female employee could easily end up labeled as “bossy” or worse for the exact same behavior. Research suggests that many women rightly worry that being “too aggressive” may result in backlash from their colleagues and supervisors.

This double-standard may help explain why women across the globe still struggle to gain leadership positions and pay parity with their male peers.

“Management and supervisory positions are overwhelmingly held by men. Within each sector men are more often promoted than women, and paid better as a consequence. This trend culminates at the very top, where amongst CEOs less than 4% are women,” according to the European Union’s Commission on Justice.

A large body of research suggests that people tend to penalize others…


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The Shape of a Logo Has a Powerful Impact on Consumers

PAFF_020916_TheRightLogo_newsfeatureCompanies have been known to spend millions of dollars designing their corporate logos – for good reason. A bad logo design can doom a brand.

When the clothing retailer the Gap attempted to refresh its logo in 2010, the reaction from the public and the shareholders was harsh. One Harvard Business Review writer declared, “[T]he logo looks like something my pet hamster could cook up in PowerPoint.”

But new research suggest that there’s more to a logo than its basic aesthetic appeal. The study, conducted by an international team of researchers, suggests that people make complex assessments of a company or product based merely on the shape of the logo.

“Five experiments document that the mere circularity and angularity of a brand logo is powerful enough to affect perceptions of the attributes of a product or company,” the researchers write in…


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Getting to Yes Is Easier Than Saying No

PAFF_020216_GettingtoYes_newsfeatureOver 100 million viewers tune in for the NFL’s championship Super Bowl game and musical Halftime Show. Historically, the NFL foots the bill for the musical entertainment; but in 2015 the NFL proposed that top talent like Katy Perry and Coldplay should instead pay them millions of dollars for the privilege of performing during the Super Bowl.

Katy Perry and other performers universally refused the deal. After all, Perry already brings in millions from her concerts and record sales. Instead of holding out and demanding that Perry “pay to play,” the NFL eventually conceded, offering the popstar a prime spot as the halftime headliner, free of charge.

Harvard Law School named the National Football League (NFL) as the most brazen negotiators of 2014 for their “pay to play” proposal. Walking away from a deal – even a bad one – may…


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How to Become the Smartest Group in the Room

PAFF_012816_SmartestTeamRoom_newsfeatureYou’re a manager tasked with putting together a team to tackle a new project. What qualities do you look for in creating such a crack team?

Research from psychological scientists Anita Williams Woolley (Carnegie Mellon University), Ishani Aggarwal (Fundação Getulio Vargas), and Thomas Malone (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) finds that the smartest groups don’t necessarily have the highest IQs – rather, what they do tend to have are excellent social skills.

For over a century, psychological scientists have found that individuals who perform well on some tasks also tend to learn quickly on others and researchers have developed so-called IQ tests in an attempt to measure this underlying “general intelligence.”

Initially, Woolley and colleagues assumed that teams with higher average IQs would outperform teams with lower average IQs. But, to their surprise, they found that putting lots of people with high IQs…


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The Energizing Effect of Humor

This is a photo of funny-looking cats.Watching funny cat videos at work may not be such a bad thing after all, as new research suggests that exposure to humorous stimuli may actually help people persevere in completing arduous tasks.

In a new study, psychological scientists David Cheng and Lu Wang of the University of New South Wales found that people who watched a funny video clip spent twice as long on a tedious task compared to people who watched neutral or positive (but not funny) videos.

“There has been increasing recognition that humor may have a functional impact on important behaviors in the workplace and that exposure to humor may increase the effectiveness of employees,” Cheng and Wang write.

Not only has prior research found that humor can facilitate recovery from stressful situations, but humor can also provide a kind of “momentary…


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