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.


Why Your Office Isn’t Doing You Any Favors

PAFF_032516_NoFavors_newsfeatureThe business world is not known for being warm and fuzzy, but new research demonstrates that the workplace really can stifle generous behavior.

“In five studies, using both attitudinal and behavioral measures, we consistently found that people primed to think of themselves in an organizational context (e.g., co-worker) felt less motivated to reciprocate, and did reciprocate than those in an otherwise parallel personal (e.g., friend or acquaintance) situation,” writes Stanford University researchers Peter Belmi and Jeffrey Pfeffer.

Previous research has shown that reciprocation is a strong, and often automatic, social norm. Studies have shown that the norm of reciprocity is so strong and automatic that people will reciprocate favors to strangers, under anonymity, and even when the favor benefits someone not liked. If reciprocity is such an important, automatic component of social behavior, why don’t we do it at work? Belmi and…

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Does a “Triple Package” of Traits Predict Success?

PAFF_032216_TriplePackageSuccess_newsfeatureWhat makes one person more successful than another? For decades, social scientists have been trying to identify the factors that lead some people, but not others, to land dream jobs in high-paying, prestigious careers. While there’s certainly no set formula for becoming a success, researchers have identified several social factors that can certainly help your chances.

Educational attainment, general intelligence, and the Big-Five personality trait of conscientiousness have all been shown to consistently predict job performance, income, wealth accumulation, and status attainment.

But what about other social factors? In a controversial bestseller from 2014, The Triple Package, legal scholars Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld argue that a “triple package” of cultural traits is associated with professional success. Specifically, Chua and Rubenfeld hypothesize that “a tendency toward impulse control, personal insecurity, and a belief in the superiority of one’s cultural or ethnic group…

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Cognition at the Speed of (LED) Lights

PAFF_031716_LEDlights_newsfeatureSince the 1970s, overhead fluorescent lighting has been standard in most office buildings. But, organizations may want to start swapping out their fluorescent lights for newer LED technology. Not only do LEDs use less power and last longer than conventional fluorescent lighting – new research suggests they hold benefits for mood and cognition.

Breanne Hawes and colleagues from the Cognitive Science Team at the United States Army Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center and Tufts University compared the effects of different types of light on mood, perception, and cognition in military personnel. The researchers found evidence that LED lights provide a cognitive advantage over fluorescent lights, potentially leading to a better mood and higher efficiency in the workplace.

“There is strong theoretical support from the experimental social and cognitive sciences to suggest that the positive moods and increased arousal seen at…

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There’s a Better Way to Brainstorm

PAFF_031516_Brainwriting_newsfeatureThe team brainstorming session is a common way for drumming up new ideas but research suggests that they have one big problem: Group interactions, like brainstorming, can actually inhibit idea generation.

APS Fellow Paul B. Paulus of the University of Texas at Arlington has studied creativity in groups, and his research suggests that brainstorming doesn’t actually work as well as people might think.

“In face-to-face settings, the opportunity to fully share information and knowledge is limited by the fact that only one person can express his or her ideas at one time,” Paulus and colleagues write in a recent study. “While waiting one’s turn to share ideas, a person may forget what he or she meant to say or get distracted from one’s own ideas by the sharing process. There may be rather uneven participation as some individuals may dominate the discussion.”

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How Caffeine Can Keep You Honest

PAFF_031116_CaffeineHonest_newsfeatureCaffeine is the most commonly used psychoactive drug in the world. And anyone who has ever worked in an office probably has a good reason for this socially accepted drug use: Caffeine enhances many cognitive processes, particularly when people are tired. This could explain why around 90% of Americans consume caffeine every day.

In addition to wreaking havoc on productivity and safety, researchers have found evidence that sleepiness may also play a role in unethical behavior. Sleep deprivation increases the presence of adenosine, an inhibitory neuromodulator that decreases cellular activity in the brain. One known mechanism by which caffeine counteracts the negative effects of sleep deprivation is by blocking adenosine receptors and increasing availability of the nerve cell messenger glutamate.

In one study, psychological scientists Michael Christian (University of North Carolina) and Aleksander P.J. Ellis (University of Arizona) found that sleep-deprived employees,…

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