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.

Workplace Ostracism More Distressing Than Harassment

Being ignored, excluded, or overlooked at work inflicts more damage on our physical and mental health than does being harassed, a new study shows.

Canadian researchers found that while most people consider workplace ostracism more benign than harassment, such exclusion is actually more likely to spur job dissatisfaction, health problems, and resignations.

This is a photo of a businessman with his head against a wall.Led by Jane O’Reilly of University of Ottawa, the research team theorized that ostracism is a more common experience at work than is harassment, and wanted to see how employees perceive those conditions.

They conducted an online survey of US workers from an array of industries. The participants were presented with a series of behaviors and asked to rate each. Specifically, they were asked how socially inappropriate and psychologically harmful they regarded each of the behaviors. They also…


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African American Success Stories Have a Downside

Ken Frazier grew up in inner-city Philadelphia. His father was a janitor, and his mother passed away when he was 12. As a child, he idolized Thurgood Marshall. He received scholarships to both Penn State and Harvard Law School. At the acme of his distinguished career in law and business, Frazier in 2011 became Chief Executive Officer of Merck & Co.—standing as the first African American to lead a pharmaceutical company.

A new study suggests that success stories like Frazier’s may actually have negative implications for other African Americans. Like Frazier, Brown University President Ruth Simmons, Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, and President Barack Obama have reached the pinnacle of success in historically white domains. Yet, the research shows, these positive examples may prompt White Americans to think that less successful African Americans simply need to apply more effort to achieve their own success.

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A Recipe for Healthy Conflict

When the members of a work team start arguing about a task they’re assigned to complete, their anger or irritation are obviously piqued. But in many cases, those debates and disagreements may invigorate them and leave them happier with their jobs.

This is a photo of a group of colleagues in a discussion.Researchers have long believed that task conflict — which occurs when group members disagree about the content of a task being performed — can be beneficial because team members share different opinions and perspectives.

But studies demonstrating that effect have been elusive.

A trio of behavioral researchers set out to test the effects of task conflict on emotions and job satisfaction. Gergana Todorova (University of Miami), Julia B. Bear (Stony Brook University), and Laurie R. Weingart (Carnegie Mellon University) found the outcomes vary depending on the intensity of the conflict.


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Surnames Not Linked to Career Status After All

Last fall, we reported on a study indicating that people with noble-sounding last names had a slightly heightened chance of working in management positions. But after conducting further analysis, the researchers behind that study have changed their conclusions.

This is a picture of name tags. In the original study, published in November in the journal Psychological Science, Raphael Silberzahn of the University of Cambridge and Eric Luis Uhlmann of HEC Paris analyzed 84 different surnames among nearly 223,000 private-sector employees and managers in Germany. They compared 11 names associated with nobility, such as Baron and Kaiser, to a long list of names associated with everyday jobs, such as Bergmann (“miner”) and Schubert (“shoemaker”). They found that people with noble-sounding first names were more likely to occupy managerial positions.

But in a review of the research, the scientists found…


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Mining the Minds of Multitaskers

We multitask all the time — organizing to-do lists while answering emails, at the same time we’re checking in with colleagues, for example. The emerging consensus from scientific research tells us that this multitasking is really an illusion, and that productivity decreases every time we switch tasks because our memory for task-related information fades.

This is a photo of people working at a desk. But in almost all of this research, task switching has been forced — despite the fact that most multitasking in everyday life is self-initiated.

This raises the question of what prompts choices to multitask in everyday life.

Do people multitask to maximize efficiency — switching tasks in order to get more done in the least amount of time? Or do people switch tasks whenever they see an opportunity to apply cognitive resources that are not currently in use?


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