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.


The Power of Puppies: Looking at Cute Images Can Improve Focus

PAFF_013015_PowerofPuppies_newsfeatureThis weekend millions of dollars will be riding on…puppies?

Some of the most expensive ads in the history of TV will air this Sunday during the National Football League’s Super Bowl game. This year, ads during the big game are reportedly going for an astounding $4.5 million per 30-second slot.

With only 30 seconds to win over viewers’ attention, and millions of dollars on the line, several major ad campaigns are utilizing a particular strategy for making their ads memorable—lots of adorable puppies. And this may be because, as research has shown, looking at cute images does more than make us smile.

In a study published in the journal PLoS ONE, psychological scientists from Hiroshima University in Japan demonstrated that “cute” pictures of baby animals, including puppies and kittens, can have powerful effects on attention and concentration.

Led by researcher Hiroshi Nittono,…

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How Hierarchy Can Help Teams Scale New Heights

PAFF_012715_HierarchyTeamPerformance_newsfeatureDo teams accomplish more when they enlist a strict hierarchy, or are they more effective when everyone is treated as an equal? A new study looking at 100 years of Himalayan mountain climbing expeditions helps shed light on this question, showing that hierarchy can be a mixed bag in high-stakes teams, both helping and hindering performance.

An international team of researchers from Columbia University and INSEAD in France concluded that from the board room to the surgery suite, hierarchy within high-stakes teams can help elevate team performance — but this boost can come at a potentially steep cost.

After analyzing over 5,000 Himalayan climbing teams, psychological scientists Eric M. Anicich, Roderick I. Swaab, and Adam D. Galinsky found that expeditions from countries with more hierarchical cultural values had more climbers reach the summit, but also had more climbers die along the way.

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Working While Sick May Be Bad for Business

PAFF_012215_WorkingWhileSick_newsfeatureBeing sick is bad enough, but coming into work while under the weather can be miserable. This week President Obama proposed a plan to provide millions of US workers the chance to earn up to seven days per year of sick time. While many Americans are eligible for paid sick leave from their employers, the White House estimates that 43 million American workers receive no sick leave at all.

In a landmark study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, psychological scientist Gary Johns of Concordia University in Montreal found evidence that coming into work while ill—called “presenteeism”—may not be the best option for workers or businesses.

His research suggests that when workers show up sick, organizations can take a major hit in the form of lost productivity.

Employers have traditionally examined ways to curb days out of the office, but…

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Women Face Backlash for Speaking Up at Work

PAFF_012015_SpeakingWhileFemale_newsfeatureFrom the floor of the US Senate to auditions for orchestras, researchers have found that men are often seen as more competent and powerful for talking, while women are more harshly criticized, more frequently interrupted, and judged as less competent for the same behavior.

“Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea,” write psychological scientist Adam Grant and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg in a recent New York Times op-ed. “As a result, women often decide that saying less is more.”

In a study he authored, Grant describes how speaking up about ideas for improvements at work—also known as “voice”—can be a risky undertaking for women.

“Despite its potential contributions to organizations, voice is a risky endeavor for employees, as it challenges…

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Sleep Deprivation Linked To Inappropriate, Unethical Behavior on the Job

PAFF_011515_DeviantBehaviorSleepWork_newsfeatureAs workers in the United States continue to work more hours every year, the National Sleep Foundation finds that Americans on average are also gradually getting fewer hours of sleep each year. For many workers, staying late and burning the midnight oil is worn as a badge of honor; but research suggests that losing sleep for workers may come at a price for organizations.

Psychological scientists Michael S. Christian and Aleksander P.J. Ellis found evidence suggesting that sleep-deprived employees, those who received less than 6 hours of sleep in a night, were more likely to be engage in negative and unethical behavior at work the next day.

Previous research indicates that sleep deprivation has little effect on logical reasoning, but can impair the function of the prefrontal cortex, a brain region involved in self-regulation and emotions, which reduces our ability to regulate…

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