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.

Number Crunching May Make People More Selfish


In the 1970s, the Ford Pinto became synonymous with unethical management decisions. Although it was known that the car had an unfortunate tendency to explode in rear-end collisions, Ford went ahead with production after a cost-benefit analysis predicted savings of $11 per car, at a cost of only 180 burn deaths. As a result, several dozen people were injured or killed before the design flaw came to light.

New research suggests that even basic math calculations may significantly increase people’s likelihood of engaging in selfish and unethical behavior.

Researchers Long Wang (City University of Hong Kong) Chen-Bo Zhong (University of Toronto), and J. Keith Murnighan (Northwestern University) hypothesized that number crunching may put people in a “calculative mindset” that makes them more likely to focus on a quantitative approach to solving a problem, overlooking a decision’s interpersonal or moral consequences.



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Which Personality Traits Are Most Important to Employers?

PersonalityTraits_newsfeatureWhile most employers evaluate job candidates on their skills and experience, many companies are increasingly using personality measures to determine whether a candidate is a good fit. According to a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, nearly 20% of employers say they use some type of personality test as part of the hiring process.

In a new study published in the journal Perspectives in Psychological Science, psychologists Paul R. Sackett and Philip T. Walmsley of the University of Minnesota analyzed several large data sets of hiring and job performance information to find out which personality attributes companies value most.

Sackett and Walmsley used a well-established model for measuring personality known as the Big Five as the theoretical basis for their study. In the Big Five model, an individual’s personality can be described using measures of five personality traits: conscientiousness, agreeableness,…


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Companies That Provide Job Training May Earn Greater Employee Loyalty

PAFF_092314_TrainingandCommitmentMFB_newsfeatureThere’s one thing that the United States Congress can agree on: the potential of job training. This summer, in a rare act of bipartisanship, Congress approved new legislation focused on increased funding for job training for US workers. The hope is that providing workers with more job training opportunities will help kickstart the US economy by getting more unemployed Americans back in the workforce.

Congress isn’t alone in seeing job training as a beneficial tool. A new study from a team of European researchers found that job training may also be a good strategy for companies looking to hire and retain top talent. When workers felt like they had received better job training options, they were also more likely to report a greater sense of commitment to their employer.

For the study, psychological scientists Rita Fontinha, Maria José Chambel, and Nele De…


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Facial Piercings Can Still Hurt Your Chances of Getting Hired

Although piercings and tattoos are more common than ever in America, research suggests that they may still hurt your prospects of getting a job.

PAFF_091614_FacialPiercingsMFB_newsfeature with attributionDespite the mainstream popularity of body art, many people still see facial piercings as unprofessional and unwelcome in the workplace. In a recent study, behavioral scientists James C. McElroy, James K. Summers, and Kelly Moore of Iowa State University found that even among college students, facial piercings still carry stigma that can affect whether or not someone gets hired.

In hiring, managers may see people with facial piercings as a poor fit for a job because facial piercings may be associated with negative personality traits.

“Specifically, there is still a stigma associated with tattoos and piercings in the workplace, even though numerous managers admit to having these modifications themselves,” the researchers write in the journal Organizational…


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Better Self-Control May Pay Off for Older Workers

A recent study finds that older workers may have an advantage over their more youthful colleagues when it comes to one key skill—self-control.

Psychological scientists Markus M. Thielgen and Guido Hertel of University of Münster and Stefan Krumm of the Free University Berlin found that older workers were better than younger workers at exercising self-control in the workplace, which gave them an edge in coping with challenging work environments.

Some of us are motivated by a passion for our careers, while others show up to work in the hopes of a bigger paycheck or a corner office. In order to feel satisfied at work most people require a combination of these motivations, known as implicit and explicit motives. Implicit motives refer to the enjoyment of a task itself, while explicit motives refer to our conscious goals and objectives–like getting a promotion or…


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