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 Coffee Shops Boost Concentration


New research might explain why many people who have the option of working from home readily swap out their pajamas for pants and their couch for a seat at the local coffee shop – sitting next to someone busily typing away can increase your own concentration and mental effort.

In two experiments, Belgian psychological scientists Kobe Desender, Sarah Beurms, and Eva Van den Bussche demonstrated that — under the right circumstances — concentration can be contagious.

“In the current study, we showed for the first time that the exertion of mental effort is contagious. Simply performing a task next to a person who exerts a lot of effort in a task will make you do the same,” the researchers write in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.

For the first experiment, two participants (A and B) were seated next to each other at…


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Better Math Skills Predict Bigger Bank Accounts

PAFF_05102016_MoMathMoMoney_newsfeatureHaving a head for numbers is an ability that people can bank on—quite literally. Being good with numbers gives people an edge in all kinds of jobs, from investment banking to professional poker. But the ability to quickly and intuitively crunch numbers—a skill called numeracy—doesn’t just give people an edge in math class. New research shows that it can also lead to greater personal wealth.

Numeracy skills go beyond the capacity to calculate numbers, extending to other important abilities like reasoning, information processing, and accurately analyzing risk. These skills can provide a distinct advantage in making day-to-day decisions on everything from picking the best retirement plan to assessing the risk of starting a new business, according to new research from an international team of psychological scientists.

“Our estimates suggest that a one-point increase in the numeracy score of the respondent is associated…


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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”


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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