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.


Dressing for Success: From Lucky Socks to the Red Sneaker Effect

PAFF_082316_LuckySocksRedShoes_newsfeatureMaking a fashion statement at the office – a tie with an unusual pattern or some snazzy red sneakers paired with a suit – may actually provide a bit of a career boost.

Under most circumstances, not conforming to etiquette rules tends to garner social disapproval; showing up to a business lunch in your gym clothes, for example, is not likely to impress your clients. However, Harvard psychological scientists Silvia Bellezza, Francesca Gino, and Anat Keinan hypothesized that intentionally standing out from the crowd could also send a positive message conveying status, confidence, and power.

“For example, high-status individuals may choose to dress informally in business settings,” the researchers write. “Certain CEOs of major corporations, including Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, have been known to appear without ties or even wearing sweatshirts at interviews and formal gatherings such as the…

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What To Do When the Boss is a Bully?

PAFF_081616_BullyBossesPayback_newsfeatureOn a spring day in 2001, Neil Patterson, the CEO of a software company in Kansas City, sent an email tirade to 400 of the company’s managers. In his email, Patterson threatened that people would lose their jobs if the parking lot wasn’t at least half full on Saturdays. “You have two weeks,” Patterson’s bullying email concluded, “Tick, tock.”

Within a week, some of Patterson’s unhappy subordinates had retaliated by posting his harsh email to a very public website. The post quickly went viral and the company’s asset value plunged by 22%.

APS Fellow Harvey Hornstein reports that a majority of employees experience abusive behavior from a boss at some point during their careers. The most common response to this bullying behavior from bosses? Payback.

In a recent study on subordinate payback, Hornstein interviewed a diverse group of 100 working adults…

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Cooperation, Fast and Slow

PAFF_080916_CooperationFastSlow_newsfeatureWorking together isn’t always easy, especially when a stubborn supervisor or colleague is always putting their own self-interests ahead of what’s best for the group. When cooperation within an organization begins to crumble, productivity, morale, and profitability can all take a nosedive.

Researchers have a long history of exploring what motivates people to cooperate – or not – and how to foster and encourage effective collaboration within and across groups. Psychological scientist David G. Rand (Yale University) recently took an in-depth look at some of the cognitive factors that influence our inclination to cooperate: intuition and deliberation.

Specifically, Rand wanted to test whether cooperation flourishes when we take more time to consider our options deliberately or when we make quick decisions based on gut instincts.

According to Noble Prize–winning psychological scientist Daniel Kahneman, decision making largely relies on competition between two major…

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Face It: Nonprofit CEOs Benefit from Having a Baby Face

PAFF_080316_BabyFaceLeaders_newsfeatureSeveral studies have shown that the shape of our faces can have a surprisingly large effect on whether our peers think we have leadership potential. For example, studies have found a positive correlation between CEOs with more aggressive, dominant facial features and a firm’s successful financial performance. People are also impressively accurate at judging a person’s occupation on the basis of nothing more than his or her face. But new research suggests that not all leaders benefit from these rough and tough facial cues.

The CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are judged on their ability to increase the financial success of their shareholders; thus, looking like a take-charge tough guy may help for-profit leaders get ahead. However, University of Toronto psychological scientists Daniel Re and Nicholas Rule hypothesized that these aggressive facial features might actually be a hindrance to leaders in…

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Why It’s So Hard to Shake a Bad First Impression

PAFF_072816_BadImpressions_newsfeatureA new study demonstrates that shaking a negative first impression is often diabolically difficult, providing just one more reason to make sure that you show up on time for your next job interview.

“Moral and immoral behaviors often come in small doses. A person might donate just a few dollars to charity or cheat on just one exam question,” explain University of Chicago psychological scientists Nadav Klein and Ed O’Brien. But how many positive or negative acts must a person undertake before we change our minds about someone?

Across five experiments, Klein and O’Brien found that this moral tipping point is asymmetric — a moral improvement takes a lot more work for us to notice compared to a moral decline, even if the evidence is we observe is the same in each case. In other words, “it is apparently easier to become…

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