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.


There’s a Better Way to Brainstorm

PAFF_031516_Brainwriting_newsfeatureThe team brainstorming session is a common way for drumming up new ideas but research suggests that they have one big problem: Group interactions, like brainstorming, can actually inhibit idea generation.

APS Fellow Paul B. Paulus of the University of Texas at Arlington has studied creativity in groups, and his research suggests that brainstorming doesn’t actually work as well as people might think.

“In face-to-face settings, the opportunity to fully share information and knowledge is limited by the fact that only one person can express his or her ideas at one time,” Paulus and colleagues write in a recent study. “While waiting one’s turn to share ideas, a person may forget what he or she meant to say or get distracted from one’s own ideas by the sharing process. There may be rather uneven participation as some individuals may dominate the discussion.”

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How Caffeine Can Keep You Honest

PAFF_031116_CaffeineHonest_newsfeatureCaffeine is the most commonly used psychoactive drug in the world. And anyone who has ever worked in an office probably has a good reason for this socially accepted drug use: Caffeine enhances many cognitive processes, particularly when people are tired. This could explain why around 90% of Americans consume caffeine every day.

In addition to wreaking havoc on productivity and safety, researchers have found evidence that sleepiness may also play a role in unethical behavior. Sleep deprivation increases the presence of adenosine, an inhibitory neuromodulator that decreases cellular activity in the brain. One known mechanism by which caffeine counteracts the negative effects of sleep deprivation is by blocking adenosine receptors and increasing availability of the nerve cell messenger glutamate.

In one study, psychological scientists Michael Christian (University of North Carolina) and Aleksander P.J. Ellis (University of Arizona) found that sleep-deprived employees,…

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The Kryptonite of Smart Decisions? Overconfidence

PAFF_030816_OverconfidenceKryptonite_newsfeatureResearch shows that people in general are overconfident, but entrepreneurs appear to be particularly prone to cockiness.

About half of new companies fail within five years, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Despite the imposing failure rate for new businesses, entrepreneurs are often quite confident that their ventures are going to succeed. One survey of 3,000 entrepreneurs found that 81% believed that their chance of success was 70% or higher; and a whopping 33% estimated their chance of success to be 100%.

New research from psychological scientists Daylian Cain (Yale University), Don A. Moore (University of California, Berkeley), and Uriel Haran (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev) suggests that entrepreneurs may be the victims of their own better-than-average beliefs.

Across three experiments, the researchers showed that the better a person believes they are relative to others on a task, the higher…

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Daydreaming Can Have a Dark Side

PAFF_030316_DarkSideDayDreaming_newsfeatureWhile someone is zoning out, their mind isn’t just blank. Instead, people who are daydreaming may be intensely ruminating on their future accomplishments, hopes, and goals. Research on daydreaming and other mind wandering has shown that this can help people generate innovative solutions to problems, an idea that the business world has started catching on to. But research is also showing that daydreaming can have a dark side.

Several studies have shown that spontaneous thoughts can be open and expansive, allowing the mind to creatively “wander” through different topics, helping people come up with expected solutions to problems. But a recent article in Clinical Psychological Science, shows how the kind of spontaneous thoughts that just pop into our heads can sometimes have negative consequences.

According to Igor Marchetti (Ghent University) and colleagues, individuals who struggle with negative emotions or who are…

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To Spot a Liar, Listen Closely

PAFF_030116_CatchaLiar_newsfeatureThe car company Volkswagen recently came under fire for purposely designing diesel engines to “cheat” emissions tests. Volkswagen is now facing billions of dollars in fines from countries around the world. Volkswagen’s CEO claims that he was unaware of the scheme, but German prosecutors are now probing the CEO for fraud charges.

It’s difficult and expensive for regulators to catch corporate fraud, but new insights from psychological science may eventually provide new techniques for spotting deception.

In general, research has shown that people are not very good at spotting lies. People tend to use nonverbal behaviors when they’re trying to spot a lie, but research suggests that vocal cues are much more reliable.

In a comprehensive review of the literature on lying, published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Aldert Vrij (University of Portsmouth) and colleagues give an example of…

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