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.

You Look More Powerful When You Avoid Talking Details, Study Shows

This is a picture of a woman speaking.People may see you as powerful based not only on your job title or your income, but on the very words you use in conversation and speeches.

That’s the conclusion from a new study on how power is signaled in interpersonal communications. Building on studies showing that people in positions of power use more abstract language (such as interpretive or visionary descriptions) than those with less clout, a trio of psychological researchers explored how people who use abstract language are perceived by others.

Over seven experiments, Cheryl J. Wakslak and Albert Han of University of Southern California and Pamela K. Smith of University of California, San Diego, found that study participants perceived individuals as more powerful when they used abstract language as opposed to concrete (detailed or specific) words.

Across the experiments, the researchers presented…


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401(k) Contributors May Take Fewer Sick Days, Study Suggests

This is a photo of a woman sick in bed.Employees who frequently call in sick can disrupt work flow and hamper productivity. It’s not easy to determine whether new hires will end up being chronic absentees. But a new study reveals one possible harbinger — their lack of participation in the company retirement plan.

What’s the connection between absenteeism and retirement saving?

Researchers Timothy Gubler and Lamar Pierce of Washington University in St. Louis believe some of the same psychological factors that drive our health behaviors also influence our financial decision-making.

They hypothesized that people who are driven by immediate rather than future rewards may not only save less for retirement, but may also neglect their health. Along the way, they discovered a link between retirement savings and work absenteeism.

To demonstrate their theory, Gubler and Pierce analyzed data from an industrial…


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Bosses Spend More Personal Time on Social Media Than Subordinates

Walk by any employee’s work station on a given day and you may see that person quickly closing a Facebook or Twitter page from his or her computer desktop. No one wants to get caught tweeting or posting Instagram pictures when they’re supposed to be working. But studies indicate that four out of five employees now use social media for personal use during working hours.

A Norwegian study, however, shows that managers and executives, while critical of employees’ social media use at work, spend more time using social media during office hours than do their subordinates.

To assess how workers used social media while on the job, a team led by psychological scientist Cecilie Schou Andreassen at the University of Bergen surveyed more than 11,000 people. The…


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Observation Skills May be Key Ingredient to Creativity

The benefits of mindfulness, or being fully conscious and aware of one’s actions and surroundings, have been well documented by psychological scientists. Advantages include decreased risk of burnout at work, improved mental health, and smarter decision-making, according to recent studies. Now, researchers are turning their attention to a potential new connection: mindfulness and creativity.

University of Amsterdam researchers led by psychological scientist Matthijs Baas wanted to see whether there could be a link between various aspects of mindfulness, such as observation skills, attention with full awareness, and powers of description; and factors pertinent to creativity, such as frequency of ideas, innovation, and flexibility of thinking. They conducted four studies to explore whether, and how, these factors might be related.

In the first study, Baas and colleagues looked at whether the ability to focus attention…


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Job Insecurity: It’s Not Just the Economy, Stupid

The economic instability that has swept the globe over the last six years has largely snuffed people’s confidence in their job security. And that wariness does nothing to improve organizations’ financial success. A 2008 study showed that job insecurity erodes commitment and performance, not to mention health. The pessimism in the workforce could therefore create a vicious cycle of lackluster economic growth; as workers worry about getting pink slips, their productivity declines and profits drop. And as profits drop, workers fret even more about their jobs.

This is a photo of two business people looking nervous.Psychological scientists in Europe recently investigated this possibility, striving to find out the exact reasons people feel insecure about their jobs. Specifically, they wanted to measure how individuals’ personalities, their company’s financial health, or some combination of the two, influence their perceptions about their job stability.



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