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.

Background Music Influences Buying Behavior

PAFF_091015_BackgroundMusic_newsfeatureBackground music has a surprisingly strong influence on what products consumers buy and how much they’re willing to pay for them, according to a new study from psychological scientists Adrian North and Lorraine Sheridan of Curtin University and Charles Areni of Macquarie University.

North and colleagues hypothesized that specific songs or musical genres could prime congruent concepts in a person’s memory, ultimately shifting people’s preferences and buying behavior. Hearing Edith Piaf in the grocery store may then be just the thing to nudge a buyer to choose a French wine over an Italian or South African one.

“Playing German music might make consumers think of beer and bratwurst, whereas French music might evoke images of wine and the Eiffel Tower,” the researchers explain.

In one experiment, 120 Scottish college students were assigned to one of four rooms in a lab. Each of…


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Why Men Still Edge Out Women in Tech Jobs

PAFF_090915_BattlingBiasMFB_newsfeatureThe world’s top tech companies have realized that unconscious bias is bad for business.

Elite companies like Facebook and Google are worried that subtle prejudices—for example, the implicit attitude that men are better than women at math and science—are leading hiring managers to unwittingly skip over the most competent, qualified candidates.

“The tech industry overall has this belief that it’s the most meritocratic industry of all and that bias and discrimination do not have a home here,” said Brian Welle, director of people analytics at Google, in USA Today. “Once people learn that they are inadvertently perpetuating bias, they want to change.”

In an effort to battle implicit bias, leading tech companies are now turning to psychological science to improve their hiring practices. Inspired by research from psychological scientists Anthony Greenwald (University of Washington) and Mahzarin Banaji (Harvard University), Google is now…


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Want to Excel at Work? Take a Vacation

PAFF_090215_VacationsForTheWin_newsfeatureThe science is clear: Taking a break is a key part of getting ahead at work. Just as top athletes need to schedule recovery breaks in their training, employees need time to mentally recharge in order to stay sharp and engaged on the job.

In an article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, Sabine Sonnentag of the University of Mannheim comprehensively reviewed the current research on recovering from work. Her analysis of dozens of studies shows that taking a break from work—both mentally and physically—is essential to maintaining top performance.

“Research in organizational psychology and related fields has identified recovery from work as an important mechanism that explains how employees can stay energetic, engaged, and healthy, even when facing high job demands,” Sonnentag writes.

Previous research has shown that vacation time is essential for reducing stress and even maintaining cardiovascular…


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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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