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.


Don’t Delay! Impatient People are Also the Worst Procrastinators

PAFF_033116_ProcrastinationImpatience_newsfeatureUrgent!!! If your boss or coworkers insists that the only suitable deadline is ASAP, they may be the one with a procrastination problem.

A fascinating new study conducted by a team of behavioral scientists looked at the link between impatience and procrastination. Columbia University behavioral scientist Ernesto Reuben and colleagues found that people operating on red alert were the worst procrastinators — even when money was on the line.

To get a more accurate measure of procrastination and impatience, the researchers put an interesting twist on a standard economics experiment. Typically, researchers will give participants the option of getting paid immediately in cash, or if they’re willing to wait a set amount of time, they can get paid a little more. As the researchers describe it, participants can choose between “smaller-sooner and larger-later rewards.” In the classic series of “marshmallow” experiments, APS…

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Handling Money Appears to Sway Helpfulness

PAFF_032916_MoneySwaysHelpful_newsfeatureThe cold touch of a nickel may be enough to keep people from helping each other, new research suggests.

In a new set of experiments in Poland, a team of researchers found that priming children with money by having them sort coins into their different denominations, as opposed to sorting different colored buttons, influenced how they behaved afterward when tasked with helping experimenters gather crayons. The children who handled money helped the experimenters significantly less than the children who sorted buttons.

While the findings are from simple experiments with children, psychological scientist Agata Gasiorowska (University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Warsaw) and colleagues believe that the motivations and foundations behind the behaviors are universal, stretching into business environments.

“Markets consist of roles (e.g., buyers, sellers, bosses, workers) and evoke analytical processes, such as proportionality and cost–benefit assessments,” they explain. “Money is such…

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Why Your Office Isn’t Doing You Any Favors

PAFF_032516_NoFavors_newsfeatureThe business world is not known for being warm and fuzzy, but new research demonstrates that the workplace really can stifle generous behavior.

“In five studies, using both attitudinal and behavioral measures, we consistently found that people primed to think of themselves in an organizational context (e.g., co-worker) felt less motivated to reciprocate, and did reciprocate than those in an otherwise parallel personal (e.g., friend or acquaintance) situation,” writes Stanford University researchers Peter Belmi and Jeffrey Pfeffer.

Previous research has shown that reciprocation is a strong, and often automatic, social norm. Studies have shown that the norm of reciprocity is so strong and automatic that people will reciprocate favors to strangers, under anonymity, and even when the favor benefits someone not liked. If reciprocity is such an important, automatic component of social behavior, why don’t we do it at work? Belmi and…

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Does a “Triple Package” of Traits Predict Success?

PAFF_032216_TriplePackageSuccess_newsfeatureWhat makes one person more successful than another? For decades, social scientists have been trying to identify the factors that lead some people, but not others, to land dream jobs in high-paying, prestigious careers. While there’s certainly no set formula for becoming a success, researchers have identified several social factors that can certainly help your chances.

Educational attainment, general intelligence, and the Big-Five personality trait of conscientiousness have all been shown to consistently predict job performance, income, wealth accumulation, and status attainment.

But what about other social factors? In a controversial bestseller from 2014, The Triple Package, legal scholars Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld argue that a “triple package” of cultural traits is associated with professional success. Specifically, Chua and Rubenfeld hypothesize that “a tendency toward impulse control, personal insecurity, and a belief in the superiority of one’s cultural or ethnic group…

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Cognition at the Speed of (LED) Lights

PAFF_031716_LEDlights_newsfeatureSince the 1970s, overhead fluorescent lighting has been standard in most office buildings. But, organizations may want to start swapping out their fluorescent lights for newer LED technology. Not only do LEDs use less power and last longer than conventional fluorescent lighting – new research suggests they hold benefits for mood and cognition.

Breanne Hawes and colleagues from the Cognitive Science Team at the United States Army Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center and Tufts University compared the effects of different types of light on mood, perception, and cognition in military personnel. The researchers found evidence that LED lights provide a cognitive advantage over fluorescent lights, potentially leading to a better mood and higher efficiency in the workplace.

“There is strong theoretical support from the experimental social and cognitive sciences to suggest that the positive moods and increased arousal seen at…

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