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.


The Shape of a Logo Has a Powerful Impact on Consumers

PAFF_020916_TheRightLogo_newsfeatureCompanies have been known to spend millions of dollars designing their corporate logos – for good reason. A bad logo design can doom a brand.

When the clothing retailer the Gap attempted to refresh its logo in 2010, the reaction from the public and the shareholders was harsh. One Harvard Business Review writer declared, “[T]he logo looks like something my pet hamster could cook up in PowerPoint.”

But new research suggest that there’s more to a logo than its basic aesthetic appeal. The study, conducted by an international team of researchers, suggests that people make complex assessments of a company or product based merely on the shape of the logo.

“Five experiments document that the mere circularity and angularity of a brand logo is powerful enough to affect perceptions of the attributes of a product or company,” the researchers write in…

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Getting to Yes Is Easier Than Saying No

PAFF_020216_GettingtoYes_newsfeatureOver 100 million viewers tune in for the NFL’s championship Super Bowl game and musical Halftime Show. Historically, the NFL foots the bill for the musical entertainment; but in 2015 the NFL proposed that top talent like Katy Perry and Coldplay should instead pay them millions of dollars for the privilege of performing during the Super Bowl.

Katy Perry and other performers universally refused the deal. After all, Perry already brings in millions from her concerts and record sales. Instead of holding out and demanding that Perry “pay to play,” the NFL eventually conceded, offering the popstar a prime spot as the halftime headliner, free of charge.

Harvard Law School named the National Football League (NFL) as the most brazen negotiators of 2014 for their “pay to play” proposal. Walking away from a deal – even a bad one – may…

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How to Become the Smartest Group in the Room

PAFF_012816_SmartestTeamRoom_newsfeatureYou’re a manager tasked with putting together a team to tackle a new project. What qualities do you look for in creating such a crack team?

Research from psychological scientists Anita Williams Woolley (Carnegie Mellon University), Ishani Aggarwal (Fundação Getulio Vargas), and Thomas Malone (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) finds that the smartest groups don’t necessarily have the highest IQs – rather, what they do tend to have are excellent social skills.

For over a century, psychological scientists have found that individuals who perform well on some tasks also tend to learn quickly on others and researchers have developed so-called IQ tests in an attempt to measure this underlying “general intelligence.”

Initially, Woolley and colleagues assumed that teams with higher average IQs would outperform teams with lower average IQs. But, to their surprise, they found that putting lots of people with high IQs…

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The Energizing Effect of Humor

This is a photo of funny-looking cats.Watching funny cat videos at work may not be such a bad thing after all, as new research suggests that exposure to humorous stimuli may actually help people persevere in completing arduous tasks.

In a new study, psychological scientists David Cheng and Lu Wang of the University of New South Wales found that people who watched a funny video clip spent twice as long on a tedious task compared to people who watched neutral or positive (but not funny) videos.

“There has been increasing recognition that humor may have a functional impact on important behaviors in the workplace and that exposure to humor may increase the effectiveness of employees,” Cheng and Wang write.

Not only has prior research found that humor can facilitate recovery from stressful situations, but humor can also provide a kind of “momentary…

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A New Way to Beat the Market: Invest in Workplace Wellness

PAFF_011216_StockMarketWellness_newsfeatureIn 1979, Jim Burke the chief executive of Johnson & Johnson started a state-of-the-art workplace wellness program in order to improve employee wellbeing and cut healthcare costs. The program’s goal was to make Johnson & Johnson employees “the healthiest in the world.” The expectation was that improving employees’ health and well-being would ultimately have a positive impact on the company’s bottom line.

It appears that Burke was onto something: A new study finds that companies that prioritize employee health also had significantly higher stock returns.

In fact, the research team, led by psychological scientist Ron Goetzel of the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, found that a stock portfolio of award-winning “health conscious” companies produced more than double the returns of the S&P 500, an index that tracks the 500 most widely held stocks…

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