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.

Older Workers Possess Unique Cognitive Strengths

PAFF_040715OlderWorkersCognitiveSkills_newsfeatureAlthough some abilities tend to decline over time, new research finds that other cognitive skills actually improve with age.

Scientists have long known that our ability to analyze novel problems and reason logically, also known as fluid intelligence, peaks around age 20 and then begins a slow decline. However, two new studies confirm that skills related to crystallized intelligence—made up of a person’s acquired knowledge and experience—appear to peak later in life, often after age 40.

In a study recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, psychological scientist Rachael M. Klein, a doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota, examined the relationship between age and business-related cognitive skills in a sample of high-level executives.

A sample of 3,375 executive-level job candidates ranging in age from 20 to 74 years old completed a specially developed managerial and professional test battery. Along with…


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Walking at Lunchtime Buffers Against Workplace Stress

PAFF_040315_LunchtimeWalking_newsfeatureManagers may want to take note: A new study shows that taking a lunchtime walk provides employees with a much-needed afternoon mood boost.

It should come as no surprise that exercise can provide stress-busting benefits to workers, but most research looking at the implications of physical activity in the workplace has relied on people’s reports of how they felt days, weeks, or even months ago.

A team of researchers led by psychological scientist Cecilie Thøgersen-Ntoumani of Curtin University in Australia made use of a specially designed cell phone app to gauge the changes in people’s mood in the moment, in an attempt to get a more accurate picture of how exercise influences mood throughout the workday.

A group of 75 members of a university’s administrative staff was recruited to participant in a workplace walking program. Nearly all of the participants were female,…


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One Way to Rein in Powerful People? Honest Feedback

PAFF_033115_HonestFeedback_newsfeatureWhile it’s standard practice for supervisors to provide regular feedback to their subordinates, it’s far less common for employees to get the opportunity to candidly appraise their supervisors’ performance. A new study suggests that honesty may be the best policy for ensuring that leaders look out for everyone, not just themselves.

By definition, people in positions of power call the shots as to how resources are divided up. This power gives leaders the opportunity to behave selfishly, keeping more resources for themselves rather than sharing perks and profits equitably with employees.

But when it comes to criticism for being selfish, psychological scientists Burak Oc (Bocconi University), Michael Bashshur (Singapore Management University), and Celia Moore (London Business School) argue that leaders are just as sensitive as the rest of us.

“Like all individuals, those with power desire to see themselves as moral and…


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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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