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.


Some Vowel Sounds Pack a Punch for Brands

PAFF_05052016_VowelPower_newsfeatureWhen naming a company or a product, marketers may want to pay extra attention to the exact syllables they’re considering. New research demonstrates that specific sounds can convey an impressive amount of symbolic meaning, which can influence the way people perceive a brand.

Across five studies, a team led by University of Toronto psychological scientists Cristina Rabaglia and Sam Maglio demonstrated that people intuitively associate front vowel sounds—those produced with the tongue relatively far forward in the mouth, such as the “ee” in feet—with nearby objects. Conversely, vowel sounds produced with the tongue far back in the mouth, such as the “oo” in food, are associated with distance.

“Our feelings and intuitions about sounds influence what we feel is okay for names of specific items or brands,” Rabaglia says in a press release. “If you name something in a way that isn’t…

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Why “Yes” Is More Powerful Than “No”

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Getting up the nerve to ask your boss for a raise or promotion can feel excruciating. Although we might dread the prospect of asking the boss—or even a colleague—for a favor, a large body of evidence suggests that we’re actually much better at influencing others than we might imagine.

“Potential requesters stress about imposing on others, feel self-conscious about revealing their shortcomings, and fear the worst—rejection,” Cornell University psychological scientist Vanessa Bohns writes in a new article in Current Directions in Psychological Science. “However, research by my colleagues and me suggests that this latter concern is often unfounded.”

Across a decade of conducting experiments, Bohns and colleagues have asked study participants to make requests of more than 14,000 strangers: Whether it’s asking to borrow a cell phone or soliciting a charitable donation, their research reveals that people are far too…

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Turbulent Teen Years Linked to Adult Unemployment

PAFF_042816_TurbulentTeensUnemployment_newsfeatureNegative emotional experiences during our teen years may take a toll on our ability to land a job as adults, according to a new study.

Psychological scientists Mark Egan, Michael Daly, and Liam Delaney of the University of Stirling examined employment patterns for over 7,000 Americans born between 1980 and 1984. Their analysis revealed that early life emotional distress – feeling anxious or depressed as a teen – was a major risk factor for unemployment in adulthood.

Highly distressed adolescents were 32% more likely to be unemployed as adults and experienced 11 weeks (28%) more unemployment compared to their non-distressed peers. Overall, the negative impact of high levels of distress during adolescence was “similar to a one standard deviation decrease in intelligence, and double the magnitude of having a serious physical health problem,” Egan, Daly, and Delaney explain.

“These findings provide strong…

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How to Give Workers a (Better) Break

PAFF_042716_BetterBreaks_newsfeatureTaking a break, whether for lunch or an afternoon cup of coffee, is an essential part of most people’s workdays. Research has shown that building breaks into our day helps keep us sharp and productive on the job. But after diving into data on workday breaks, Baylor University psychological scientists Emily Hunter and Cindy Wu discovered that many of our assumptions about the best way to take a break are wrong.

“Surprisingly little research investigates employee breaks at work, and even less research provides prescriptive suggestions for better workday breaks in terms of when, where, and how break activities are most beneficial,” Hunter and Wu write.

In many offices, the typical culture is to work throughout the morning, with breaks saved for lunch or the late afternoon. Hunter and Wu hypothesized that – much like workers all over the world – people…

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Intuition – It’s More Than a Feeling

PAFF_042116_MeasuringIntuition_newsfeatureGreat leaders make smart decisions, even in difficult circumstances. From Albert Einstein to Oprah Winfrey, many top leaders ascribe their success to having followed their intuition. New research shows how going with our gut instincts can help guide us to faster, more accurate decisions.

Intuition — the idea that individuals can make successful decisions without deliberate analytical thought — has intrigued philosophers and scientists since at least the times of the ancient Greeks. But scientists have had trouble finding quantifiable evidence that intuition actually exists.

Now, a team of researchers from the University of New South Wales has come up with a novel technique demonstrating just how much unconscious intuition can inform — and even improve — our decision-making. The research team — psychological scientists Galang Lufityanto, Chris Donkin, and Joel Pearson — recently published their findings in Psychological Science.

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