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.


Workers Worried About Job Loss Forego Support Programs

PAFF_110614_JobLossPrograms_newsfeatureIt’s been five years since the end of the recession was declared, but economists report that levels of unemployment in many states still haven’t fully recovered to their pre-recession levels. The sluggish economic recovery has kept many workers worried about the potential for layoffs and the risk of long-term unemployment.

Although organizations offer programs meant to help employees cope with workplace stress, a recent study finds that employees who are stressed and anxious about their job prospects are hesitant to make use of these programs.

Psychological scientists Wendy R. Boswell, Julie B. Olson-Buchanan, and T. Brad Harris found that, paradoxically, the very employees these programs are meant to help are the least likely to actually use them.

The study, published in the journal Personnel Psychology, concluded that employees who are worried for their jobs also worry that they’ll be perceived as expendable…

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Younger Leaders Seen as More Innovative, Older Leaders More Reliable

PAFF_110414_JudgingLeadersonAge_newsfeatureYou’re more likely to see gray hair among the CEOs of the top 500 American companies (where the average age is about 53) than you are among Silicon Valley’s tech entrepreneurs, many of whom started billion dollar companies fresh out of college or even high school. New research suggests there may be a reason for the age disparities between leaders in different fields: A team of psychological scientists led by Brian R. Spisak of VU University Amsterdam provides evidence that people have unconscious biases based on age when it comes to choosing a leader.

Data from three experiments shows that people are more likely to endorse younger-looking leaders for innovation, while they are more likely to perceive older-looking leaders as stable and conservative.

For the research, the team used specialized software to create both old and young neutral faces. In the first…

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One Scary Boss Can Spook the Whole Office

Scary BossCoping with an abusive boss can have major impacts on employee well-being, and research has even shown that a bad boss can make people sick, leading to increased rates of heart attack, high blood pressure, anxiety, and chronic stress among employees.

But a scary boss doesn’t just impact his or her immediate subordinates – new research from a team of psychological scientists led by Mary Bardes Mawritz of Drexel University shows that an abusive boss’s bad behavior can trickle down throughout the entire office.

The researchers hypothesized that when managers at the top of an organization’s hierarchy act out they set a norm for tolerating abusive behavior that is then followed by the supervisors under them, eventually leading to mistreatment of employees throughout the organization.

“If supervisors see their higher level managers engaging in abusive supervision, they may employ similar behavior…

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Memory Research Offers Clues to Preventing Human Error

PAFF_102814_AirTrafficMemory_newsfeatureAt work, as well as in our personal lives, we often have to juggle many tasks at once. Tasks that we put off for the time being and have to remember to complete later – remembering to look up project details after a meeting ends or to pick up milk on the way home from work, for example — involve a type of memory known as “prospective memory.”

Much of the time, failures of prospective memory are annoying – such as when you pour your cereal only to realize there’s still no milk in the house – but if you’re an emergency room doctor or an air traffic controller, forgetting to perform a deferred task can have catastrophic consequences.

To better understand how “juggling” multiple tasks contributes to errors in performance, psychological scientist Shayne Loft of the University of Western Australia has…

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Better Teamwork Comes From Facing Challenges

From basketball to brain surgery, people can accomplish more working together as a team than they ever could by themselves. As Aristotle famously put it, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In an article recently published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, psychological scientist Jamie C. Gorman of Texas Tech University outlined new research that is improving our understanding of the cognitive and environmental factors that allow people to work together effectively in teams.

Previous studies have shown that shared knowledge between individuals enhances coordination within a team. These improvements in coordination, in turn, boost the team’s performance. When people share the same overlapping PAFF_102314_TeamCoordination_newsfeatureknowledge – like a team of basketball players that have all studied the same play – they can better communicate and coordinate, freeing up mental resources and allowing the team to attain higher…

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