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’re Joking: Detecting Sarcasm in Emails Isn’t Easy

paff_092716_sarcasmcommunication_newsfeature“Well, that meeting was a really fantastic use of my time.”

You may want to think twice before hitting send on that email with a sarcastic joke – regardless of whether your boss or your work buddies are on the receiving end.

New research investigating how we determine the emotional content of text is showing that people have a very hard time catching on to sarcasm in emails and texts. This means that written communications aren’t the best medium for making a well-meaning joke; people often interpret a friendly riff as being overtly negative, or they don’t catch the sarcastic tone at all and assume a caustic jibe is actually praise.

Across three studies, Chatham University psychological scientists Monica Riordan and Lauren Trichtinger measured people’s accuracy at gauging the emotional tone of emails sent by both friends and complete strangers. Their results:…


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People Prefer Hiring “Naturals” Over Hardworking “Strivers”

paff_092216_naturalsbias_newsfeatureWhen deciding which candidate to hire or what company to invest in, do we favor someone who has a history of hard work and perseverance or the hotshot with a natural talent?

Findings from three studies conducted by University College London professor Chia-Jung Tsay suggest that when assessing people with equivalent levels of achievement and success, we’re predisposed to judge someone who’s a “natural” as more talented, more hirable, and more likely to succeed than someone who’s a “striver.”

“[T]here exists the belief that certain achievements cannot be explained solely by perseverance and hard work—that natural talent plays a role, and some ‘have it’ and others ‘do not,’” Tsay writes.

In the first set of studies, Tsay recruited 212 participants possessing varying experience with entrepreneurship; some individuals, categorized as novices, reported little-to-no professional experience with entrepreneurship at all (about 44% of the…


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The Right Music Can Bring Teams Together

paff_092016_musiccooperation_newsfeatureMusic is a common feature in many workplaces – from surgery suites to the mechanic’s shop. But when businesses play music, it’s typically to influence the mood of customers. Studies have shown that background music, even when we don’t notice it, can have an effect on our buying preferences. However, relatively little research has studied the impact of music on employee behavior.

In a new study, a team of Cornell University researchers found evidence that what we’re listening to at work might influence how willing we are to cooperate with coworkers.

“Based on results from two extended 20-round public goods experiments, we find that happy music significantly and positively influences cooperative behavior,” writes Kevin Kniffin and colleagues. “We also find a significant positive association between mood and cooperative behavior.”

Several previous studies have shown that when prompted with enjoyable music, people…


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A Good Mood Is a Good Motivator

Ipaff_091316_motivatingmood_newsfeatureYou need to alphabetize those files, transcribe last week’s meeting, and then look up some tax codes, but actually motivating yourself to take care of these tedious tasks can be a real challenge. According to new research from APS Fellow James J. Gross (Stanford University) and colleagues, people are much more likely to take on boring, unpleasant tasks when they’re in a good mood.

Using a smartphone app to gather data, Gross and colleagues were able to monitor the moods of over 28,000 people in real time across an average of 27 days. Their findings suggest that our affective state – whether we’re feeling peppy and positive or bummed and blue – has a significant impact on whether we’re in the mindset to tackle drudgery.

“Most theories of motivation propose that our daily choices of activities aim to maximize positive affective states…


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Experience Buying and Selling Reduces Financially Costly Biases

paff_090816_endowmenteffect_newsfeatureWhen it comes to decisions about buying and selling, businesses are supposed to use evidence and observations about the market for goods to make profitable decisions. In classical economics, it’s assumed that people make financial decisions based on rational rules of thumb—buy low, sell high, diversify portfolios, that kind of thing. But the reality about how we make financial decisions appears to be much more complicated than simply assessing the rational value of goods.

For example, people commonly demand a greater price for goods they already own than they would pay to purchase the identical goods from somewhere else—a bias known as the “endowment effect.” Not only do we overestimate the value of our used furniture, cars, and knick-knacks, but evidence suggests this bias also plays a role in influencing economic markets on a global scale.

Previous research suggests that as people…


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