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.

A Disagreeable Personality Can Help Get Original Ideas Noticed

PAFF_032715_OfficeJerksOriginality_newsfeatureInfamously disagreeable innovators ranging from Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs have helped to propagate the idea that being headstrong and aggressive may be linked with creative genius. After all, creative success isn’t just about coming up with an innovative idea — you also have to convince others to get behind your idea, and this is where researchers find that being a jerk may come in handy.

But new research shows that you don’t have to be a jerk to come up with the next game-changing creative idea. Psychological scientists Samuel Hunter of Pennsylvania State University and Lily Cushenbery of Stony Brook University warn that while being aggressive may have benefits in some contexts, it’s not a guaranteed strategy for promoting creativity.

Hunter and Cushenbery note that novel ideas are often met with greater skepticism and criticism than conventional ones. But, because disagreeable…


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Weight Bias Impacts Our Perceptions of Competence

PAFF_032415_ObesityBiasCompetence_newsfeatureOverweight individuals often face discrimination across many stages of their careers. Compared to their thinner colleagues, people who are overweight are less likely to be hired, less likely to be promoted, and ultimately earn lower wages.

A new study suggests this weight-based bias may even extend to judgments of competence. Psychological scientists Emma Levine and Maurice Schweitzer of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania found that people gave overweight individuals low ratings for competence, regardless of their qualifications or performance.

“Organizational research on stereotypes and diversity has been surprisingly silent with respect to weight,” Levine and Schweitzer write. “We demonstrate that obesity is intricately linked with perceptions of low competence and that this association not only reflects a bias, but also triggers interpersonal reactions that are far more nuanced than prior work has assumed.”

Levine and Schweitzer argue that this…


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Bosses Can Spot Self-Serving Workers

PAFF_032015_BossesSpotSuckup_newsfeatureSupervisors are surprisingly accurate at distinguishing between employees who put in extra effort out of altruistic concern for the company, and those who suck up just to get ahead, according to a new study from a team of Canadian psychological scientists.

Study author Magda Donia of the University of Ottawa and her co-authors, Gary Johns of Concordia University and Usman Raja of Brock University, described hardworking employees as falling into one of two camps: so-called good “soldiers” and good “actors.”

While both groups of may go above and beyond on the job, good “soldiers” are motivated to help their colleagues out of sense of altruism, whereas good “actors” see helping out as a self-serving opportunity to make themselves look good.

Donia and colleagues hypothesized that while actors are on the lookout for flashy opportunities to get themselves publicly noticed for their good…


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The Vicious Cycle of Workplace Bullying


A new study finds that workplace bullying often becomes a vicious cycle where the more stressed and anxious victims become, the more likely they are to be targeted for abuse.

Years of research on workplace bullying have shown that it can pose serious consequences for victims, ranging from depression to burnout.

In addition to damaging health and productivity, psychological scientists Alfredo Rodríguez-Muñoz (Complutense University of Madrid), Bernardo Moreno-Jiménez (Autonoma University of Madrid), and Ana Isabel Sanz-Vergel (University of East Anglia), found that the stress and anxiety caused by bullying grinds workers down, leaving them more vulnerable to further persecution.

“We found that being exposed to workplace bullying leads to deteriorated mental health and decreased well-being,” says Sanz-Vergel. “But at the same time, showing anxious behavior puts the victim in a weak position and makes them an easy target – leading to…


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Offering a Range of Numbers Can Lead to an Edge in Negotiations

PAFF_031315_NegotiatingwithaRange_newsfeatureNew research from Columbia Business School challenges conventional wisdom about making an initial offer during a negotiation. To get the best deal, you may want to consider offering a range of options rather than a single number.

Whether bargaining for catering, a new car, or a starting salary, psychological scientists Daniel Ames and Malia Mason, found that when bargainers offered a modest range (asking for a starting salary of $50,000 to $54,000, for example) they secured better offers than when they suggested a single “point” number (say, $52,000).

Ames and Mason found that certain types of range offers worked better than others. The most successful strategy was using a “bolstering” range offer, where a negotiator starts with their desired price and stretches it in a more ambitious direction. For example, if your ideal salary is $70,000, your best bet is to suggest…


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