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.

Benefitting from Nepotism Carries Hidden Costs

PAFF_062415_NepotismCosts_newsfeatureFrom politics to Hollywood, it’s not always what you know but who you know that gets you the job. The right family contacts have helped generations of well-connected children climb the corporate ladder. But new research from Butler University psychological scientists Margaret Padgett, Robert Padgett, and Kathryn Morris from Butler University concludes that beneficiaries of nepotism pay a price.

“People have negative attitudes toward nepotism and consequently, stigmatize those who benefit from a family connection in the hiring process,” the researchers write in the Journal of Business and Psychology.

In the first study, they analyzed a sample of 191 MBA students. For the experiment, participants were told to imagine themselves as employees at a bank about to hire a new manager, their future boss. They were given a packet of hiring materials for three applicants under consideration for the position. The packet…


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Moral Suspicion Trickles Down the Corporate Ladder

PAFF_061915_MoralSuspicionOffice_newsfeatureNew research finds that a high-ranking supervisor’s unethical misdeeds can trickle down to tarnish the reputations of the upstanding rank-and-file employees working under them.

In the late 1990s, Enron was considered one of the most innovative companies in America, but the fraudulent actions of a few Enron executives resulted in one of the biggest corporate scandals in recent history. Almost 20,000 Enron employees lost their jobs and retirement savings as a result of the company’s collapse in 2001. Adding insult to injury, former Enron employees—who did nothing wrong themselves—have reported that they still struggle years later with public perception that all staff were involved in the company’s corruption.

While past research has looked at how people’s own moral failings can tarnish their reputations, a new study by Stanford University psychological scientists Takuya Sawaoka and Benoît Monin examined how people’s reputations can be…


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Social Constraints Can Spark Creativity in Diverse Groups

PAFF_061615_MixedGroupsCreativity_newsfeatureIt’s often assumed that creativity is unleashed by removing constraints, but new research finds that establishing clear expectations for social interactions actually encouraged creativity among mixed-sex work groups.

A team of psychological scientists, led by Jack Goncalo of Cornell University, wanted to test whether a politically correct environment would dampen people’s creativity — or whether clear social boundaries would actually encourage diverse groups of people to share novel ideas.

“We present evidence from two group experiments showing that the PC norm promotes rather than suppresses members’ free expression of ideas by reducing the uncertainty they experience in mixed-sex work groups,” the Goncalo and colleagues write in Administrative Science Quarterly.

The researchers hypothesized that men and women in mixed-gender groups try to avoid behaviors that might confirm negative gender stereotypes; men may be wary of sharing ideas that come off as offensive, while…


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Pride and Prejudice: Reducing LGBT Discrimination at Work

PAFF_061015_PrideAtWork_newsfeatureIn 29 states in the US, it’s still legal to fire someone—or not hire them at all—based solely on their sexual orientation. Although mainstream support for LGBT individuals has been steadily growing, workplace discrimination still poses a serious career challenge for many.

Research from APS Board Member Michelle “Mikki” Hebl of Rice University and Laura Barron of the US Air Force Management Policy Division indicates that anti-discrimination laws can not only help protect LGBT people from unfair employment practices, these laws can also dramatically improve the way people are treated by their colleagues.

There is currently no federal law in the US protecting individuals from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, however, local anti-discrimination laws often vary widely. Hebl and Barron saw this patchwork of local laws as an excellent opportunity to empirically study the effects of anti-discrimination laws on the treatment…


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Can Leadership Potential be Predicted at Age 10?

PAFF_060515_ChildhoodLeadership_newsfeatureNew research concludes that the foundations of leadership may be laid early in life, suggesting that our cognitive abilities as children strongly influence our odds of moving up the corporate ladder as adults.

Analyzing data from almost 17,000 working individuals in the UK collected in two major studies over a span of 4 decades, psychological scientists Michael Daly, Mark Egan, and Fionnuala O’Reilly of Stirling University found that high scores for cognitive abilities at age 10 dramatically improved the odds of becoming the boss by age 50.

“The results suggest that early individual differences in childhood general cognitive ability may profoundly shape trajectories of leadership across working life,” the researchers write in the journal Leadership Quarterly.

At age 10 or 11, children in the study completed measures of their verbal skills, reasoning, and general cognitive abilities. Beginning in their 20s, the participants…


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