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.

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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Lousy Weather May Fuel Work Performance

Unless you love London’s fog or Seattle’s drizzle, days that are wet and gray are likely to leave you feeling dampened in spirit and low on energy. But contrary to what you might expect, those ugly days may actually enhance the quality and volume of your work.

A new study indicates that while people expect to feel crankier, sadder, drowsier, and less attentive on gloomy days, they actually tend to be more focused and productive than they are when the sun is shining and the skies are blue.

This is a photo of a rainy scene taken through a window.Psychological researchers Jooa Julia Lee and Francesca Gino of Harvard University and Bradley R. Staats of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill wanted to find out how weather effects work efficiency.

They began by surveying 198 adults and asking them to predict the…


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Serving Your Subordinates

In his book Arthashastra, the ancient Indian scholar Chanakya wrote that “the king shall consider as good, not what pleases himself, but what pleases his subjects.”

That philosophy of leadership, embraced by many ancient religions, is increasingly being adopted in the professional world as organizations adopt people-centered management practices. Servant leadership, a concept modernized in the 20th century by the writer and consultant Robert Greenleaf, involves sharing power, putting the needs of others first, and helping followers perform at their best.

A team of behavioral scientists recently investigated the role that emotional intelligence — the ability to monitor the feelings of ourselves and others — plays in servant leadership.

Using a variety of psychological measurement tools, the researchers surveyed 75 civic leaders to measure their…


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Making Tasks More Difficult May Help Overrule Office Distractions

Maybe there’s a guy who likes to yak about last night’s episode of Game of Thrones, or a woman who likes to take phone calls on speaker. Whether you’re in an 80s era “cube farm” or a modern open office, working in the midst of a sea of noisy distractions can prove particularly challenging.

So how can you better focus on the task at hand? You might want to make the task a little bit more difficult, according to a new study from Swedish researcher Niklas Halin and colleagues.

This is a photo of a woman trying to concentrate on work.Previous research has highlighted two distinct factors that influence distractibility: task difficulty and working memory capacity.

Increasing task difficulty makes us less distractible by narrowing our attention so that we zero in on only the information we need. And individuals who…


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