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.

Cultivating Wisdom at Work

PAFF_061716_CultivatingWisdom_newsfeatureAs the tutor of Alexander the Great, the Greek philosopher Aristotle knew a thing or two about the qualities that a strong leader must possess. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle explains that all great leaders possess one specific trait: practical wisdom. Wisdom allows leaders to accurately size up a situation and make the best possible decisions for both themselves and others.

A recent study conducted by Igor Grossmann (University of Waterloo) and colleagues sought to answer a question about wisdom that has plagued philosophers ranging from Aristotle to Confucius: Is wisdom something we’re born with, or is it a quality that we can cultivate?

Grossmann has conducted several previous studies exploring the underlying qualities associated with wisdom. According to Grossmann and colleagues, wise reasoning is associated with “the ability to be observant, to see things within a larger context, flexibility, consideration of various…


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Memories of Unethical Actions Fade Faster

PAFF_061416_UnethicalAmnesia_newsfeatureThe collapse of the Enron Corporation is widely considered to be one of the worst business scandals of the 20th century. Former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay was eventually charged and convicted of multiple counts of criminal behavior, including conspiracy, fraud, and making false statements to banks. Although Lay’s actions resulted in thousands of employees losing both their jobs and their retirement savings when the company failed, he insisted that he was innocent of any wrongdoing. In an interview in 2004 he said, “I don’t fear jail because I know I’m not guilty. I know I did nothing wrong. I did nothing criminal.”

Despite thinking of themselves as upstanding and moral, many people still engage in shady—even illegal—business practices. Cases of ethical misconduct in business are estimated to cost society millions, even billions, of dollars every year. How do people like Kenneth Lay…


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Google Enlists Psychological Science to Fight Office Snack Attacks

PAFF_060916_GoogleSnackAttack_newsfeatureThe way to an employee’s heart might be through their stomach as much as their wallet. One recent survey of 1,000 people found that free food at work was associated with a 20% higher likelihood of feeling extremely or very happy with their jobs.

Silicon Valley tech companies have become famous for their lavish, free employee snacking options. At Google’s main campus in Mountain View, employees have access to over 30 different cafés serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as a variety of snacks. Google’s Toronto campus even has a “baconators” club where trained chefs prepare custom flavored bacon (as an example, Thai lemongrass, basil, and chili was one past flavor).

One of the problems with encouraging office snacking is that employees start to put on pounds. But taking snacks away completely—or replacing artisanal bacon products with celery and carrot…


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Is Gossip Good at Work?

PAFF_060716_GossipCanBeGood_newsfeatureTalking about co-workers or bosses while they’re not around can be nefarious, but new research suggests that gossip also can have positive effects on group behavior and cooperation at work.

Psychological scientists Junhui Wu and Paul A. M. Van Lange of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands and Daniel Balliet of Wesleyan University compared the effects of gossip and punishment on group behavior in a computer-based experiment.

According to Wu and colleagues, knowing that their reputation is on the line tends to make people more cooperative. By allowing study participants to gossip and punish each other in a group task, the researchers enabled a “system of indirect reciprocity” by which a cooperative reputation can yield a greater chance of receiving future benefits.

In the study, 265 participants performed two tasks: a public goods task that involved four people playing a game…


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When Looking Like a Leader Derails the Group

This is a photo of chairs around a conference table.Just because someone looks and acts like a leader, doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about. In a recent set of experiments, psychological scientists Connson Locke (London School of Economics and Political Science) and Cameron Anderson (University of California, Berkeley) found that people who displayed the powerful, confident body language associated with leadership tended to dominate decision making—even when their ideas were entirely incorrect.

“People interpret confident nonverbal behavior as a sign of competence and ability. Individuals’ actual competence resides within them and is hidden from others, and thus others are often forced to judge individuals’ abilities based on superficial cues such as nonverbal behavior, appearance, or speaking style,” explains Locke and Anderson. “It has been shown that groups systematically promote confident and even overconfident individuals into positions of power and status.”


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