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.

A Recipe for Healthy Conflict

When the members of a work team start arguing about a task they’re assigned to complete, their anger or irritation are obviously piqued. But in many cases, those debates and disagreements may invigorate them and leave them happier with their jobs.

This is a photo of a group of colleagues in a discussion.Researchers have long believed that task conflict — which occurs when group members disagree about the content of a task being performed — can be beneficial because team members share different opinions and perspectives.

But studies demonstrating that effect have been elusive.

A trio of behavioral researchers set out to test the effects of task conflict on emotions and job satisfaction. Gergana Todorova (University of Miami), Julia B. Bear (Stony Brook University), and Laurie R. Weingart (Carnegie Mellon University) found the outcomes vary depending on the intensity of the conflict.


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Surnames Not Linked to Career Status After All

Last fall, we reported on a study indicating that people with noble-sounding last names had a slightly heightened chance of working in management positions. But after conducting further analysis, the researchers behind that study have changed their conclusions.

This is a picture of name tags. In the original study, published in November in the journal Psychological Science, Raphael Silberzahn of the University of Cambridge and Eric Luis Uhlmann of HEC Paris analyzed 84 different surnames among nearly 223,000 private-sector employees and managers in Germany. They compared 11 names associated with nobility, such as Baron and Kaiser, to a long list of names associated with everyday jobs, such as Bergmann (“miner”) and Schubert (“shoemaker”). They found that people with noble-sounding first names were more likely to occupy managerial positions.

But in a review of the research, the scientists found…


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Mining the Minds of Multitaskers

We multitask all the time — organizing to-do lists while answering emails, at the same time we’re checking in with colleagues, for example. The emerging consensus from scientific research tells us that this multitasking is really an illusion, and that productivity decreases every time we switch tasks because our memory for task-related information fades.

This is a photo of people working at a desk. But in almost all of this research, task switching has been forced — despite the fact that most multitasking in everyday life is self-initiated.

This raises the question of what prompts choices to multitask in everyday life.

Do people multitask to maximize efficiency — switching tasks in order to get more done in the least amount of time? Or do people switch tasks whenever they see an opportunity to apply cognitive resources that are not currently in use?


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No Extra Credit for Delivering on Promises

This is a photo of a tiny trophy on top of a stack of office papers.If you promise to complete a project on time and you deliver it ahead of the deadline, don’t expect any special kudos from your boss.

If you pledge a certain level of service and deliver even more than you promise, you aren’t likely to receive any especially-rosy customer reviews.

That’s the conclusion drawn from a recent management study about the social consequences of surpassing promises. There is plenty of research showing that keeping promises builds trust and loyalty from customers, employees, and friends.

But behavioral scientist Ayelet Gneezy (University of California, San Diego) and psychology professor Nicholas Epley (University of Chicago) wanted to see if exceeding a promise engenders greater appreciation than simply fulfilling it.

They found that going above and beyond a promise doesn’t add much…


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Will the Great Recession Spawn Humble CEOs?

For years, social scientists have been interested in narcissism among America’s corporate titans. Narcissistic CEOs are known for their self-promotion, excessive self-regard, and tendency to draw attention to themselves. They also tend to embrace risk and lead companies that either perform fantastically well or catastrophically poorly.

This is a photo of a CEO speaking to his employees through a megaphone.One signal of a narcissistic CEO is relative pay. Narcissistic CEOs pay themselves considerably more than other members of their top management team.

CEOs have some control over their own pay and almost complete control over the pay of other executives. Choosing to pay oneself considerably more than the next most senior executive reflects a belief that one is uniquely valuable to the company and entitled to compensation that reflects this heightened importance.

Despite widespread interest in narcissism, relatively little is known…


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