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 Key to Creativity May be in Imagining the Details

Beyond recruiting staff that has the right skills, qualifications, and education for the job, organizations are increasingly looking for ways to boost another key component of success—creativity.

PAFF_072915_DetailsCreativityMemory_newsfeatureIn a study recently published in Psychological Science, a trio of Harvard University researchers—Kevin Madore, Donna Rose Addis, and Daniel Schacter—found an unusual link between memory and creative problem-solving. The study showed that reminiscing about the specific details of an experience, tapping into what is known as episodic memory, helped spark “divergent thinking,” or the ability to come up with many creative solutions for a problem.

“Episodic memory supports ‘mental time travel’ into the future as well as the past, and indeed, numerous recent studies have provided evidence that episodic memory contributes importantly to imagining or simulating possible future experiences,” the researchers write.

Essentially, prompting people to imagine the specific details of a past…


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Burnout Leaves its Mark on the Brain

PAFF_072315_BurnoutBrain_newsfeatureA rough day at the office is stressful enough, but when long hours and chronic exhaustion become the norm at work it can take a dramatic toll on our health—including our brain functioning.

When stress at work becomes overwhelming, it can turn into burnout. Burnout has many of the same symptoms as depression, including memory and concentration problems, sleeplessness, diffuse aches, profound fatigue, irritability, anxiety, and a nagging feeling of being emotionally drained.

In a recent study, a team led by psychological scientist Amita Golkar and colleagues from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found evidence that workplace burnout can alter neural circuits in the brain. As part of a vicious cycle, chronic stress seems to dampen people’s neurological ability to bounce back from negative situations—causing even more stress.

A group of 40 subjects with formally diagnosed burnout symptoms were recruited from…


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Chatting Before Negotiations Benefits Men More Than Women

PAFF_071515_ChitChatNegotiation_newsfeatureNew research suggests that men may reap financial rewards by engaging in a bit of casual chitchat before a negotiation. However, the same is not true for women.

Psychological scientists Brooke Shaughnessy (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München), Alexandra Mislin (American University), and Tanja Hentschel (Technische Universität München) concluded that a bit of schmoozing can help men—but not women—walk away from a negotiation with a better deal, as well as better long-term business relationships.

“The results of these studies strongly support the notion that men and women, in the same situation, engaging in the same behavior, result in distinct reactions due to the behavioral expectations associated with their gender,” writes Shaughnessy and colleagues. “Specifically, for male negotiators, engaging in small talk consistently enhanced perceptions of liking, cooperativeness, and relationship satisfaction.”

Although prior research has linked small talk in negotiations to positive outcomes in general, the research…


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A Full Night’s Sleep Boosts Satisfaction with Work

PAFF_070715_SleepStressWork_newsfeatureTreating workers’ sleep problems may be one way to improve employee satisfaction on the job, according to new research.

After analyzing data from nearly 5,000 employed adults, a team of psychological scientists from Stockholm University and the Karolinska Institute concluded that getting a healthy amount of sleep is vital for workers to manage stress and maintain a positive attitude at work.

Just as stress on the job can cause poor sleep, lead study authors Torbjörn Åkerstedt and Johanna Garefelt found that not getting enough quality sleep can influence the way employees perceive stress at work. Sleep-deprived employees felt as though they had a significantly more demanding workload, less control, and less social support than their well-rested peers. They also ended up—unsurprisingly—reporting more negative attitudes about their work and higher rates of stress.

Importantly, these results highlight how the link between workplace stress…


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For Job Interviews, Earlier in the Day May Be Better

PAFF_063015_InterviewTiming_newsfeatureDuring a job interview, many applicants worry that their professional fate rests in the first few moments of the interview. After a few minutes—or even seconds—the interviewer has sized them up and arrived at a decision.

But new research suggests that there may be a different factor for job candidates to worry about: timing. Data gathered by psychological scientists Rachel Frieder (Old Dominion University), Chad Van Iddekinge (Florida State University), and Patrick Raymark (Clemson University) challenge the common belief that interviewers rely on near-instantaneous snap judgements. Instead, their research suggests that a successful interview may depend on your place in the interview schedule.

For the first one or two applicants, interviewers don’t have much information to process, allowing them to make a decision about a candidate’s suitability fairly easily. But, as more candidates are interviewed, interviewers have to remember, process, and compare…


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