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.

What Pigeons Can Teach Us About Multitasking

paff_102516_pigeonsmultitasking_newsfeatureEvidence has long shown that humans are terrible at multitasking. People are prone to make more mistakes when they’re switching between different tasks, say answering emails and listening to a conference call, than when they take on a single task at a time.

These “switch costs” are thought to occur due to the use of executive control, as people suppress the set of actions required for one task and activate those required for the next. Pigeons, on the other hand, seem to be pretty good at multitasking.

Compared to typical task-switching costs seen in humans (more mistakes and slower reaction times), pigeons show no decrease in accuracy when switching between tasks.

“It is argued that switch costs exist because humans perform the executive control operations of identifying the current task, retrieving its specific stimulus-response rules into working memory (and deleting the…


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How Dishonest Behavior Can Turn Into Corporate Misconduct

This is a photo of a dollar on a fishing line and hook.The international bank Wells Fargo has recently been under fire for a large fraud scandal in which thousands of the bank’s employees misappropriated customer funds and created over 2 million fake accounts that were fraudulently used for their own financial benefit. Many are left wondering what sort of ethical climate must exist at this enormous organization that could have allowed for a scandal of this scope to happen.

An international team of researchers, including investigators from universities in China and the United States, were interested in how an organization’s ethical and service climates might impact business performance. Specifically, they wanted to look at policies and procedures for practicing responsive and empathetic service (i.e., Service Climate) and the emphasis placed on societal moral standards for providing honorable, just, and…


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Why You Should Break Up With Your Smartphone During Lunch Breaks

paff_101316_smartphonesbreaks_newsfeatureAfter a flurry of memos, meetings, and phone calls you might be ready for a break. While turning to your phone for a few rounds of Candy Crush or a quick look at Facebook might seem relaxing, new research suggests that when people spent their breaks using a smartphone, breaks just aren’t that restorative.

Psychological scientists Hongjai Rhee (Ajou University) and Sudong Kim (Korea Institute for Research in the Behavioral Sciences) surveyed over 400 working adults about how they spent their lunch breaks. The results suggest that people who turned to their smartphones ended up feeling worse than those who avoided electronic entertainment.

“Recently, the tendency to use smart phones to relax is growing in popularity, but little research exists to provide empirical evidence on the positive influence of using a smart phone during a break on reenergizing,” the researchers explain.



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Using the Wisdom of Crowds to Improve Hiring

paff_101116_wisdomofcrowds_newsfeatureThe British statistician Francis Galton applied statistical methods to many different subjects during the 1800s, including the use of fingerprinting for identification, correlational calculus, twins, blood transfusions, criminality, meteorology and, perhaps most famously, human intelligence. Galton, who was an ardent eugenicist, believed that intelligence was a trait that only a minority of elite individuals possessed. The majority of common people, he believed, were not very competent decision-makers.

To put his theories to the test, Galton ran a famous experiment designed to analyze whether groups of common people were capable of making accurate choices. He asked 800 regular townsfolk at a county fair in Plymouth to guess the weight of an ox. People wrote down their estimates on bits of paper, which Galton then analyzed.

As it turned out, the median of all 800 guesses was very close to the correct answer. Much…


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Can Personality Traits Predict Who Chokes Under Pressure?

paff_100516_personalitypressurechoke_newsfeatureWhen there’s a lot on the line–a big presentation or a tough negotiation–some people manage to stay cool under pressure, while others have a meltdown. In a new study, a team of psychological scientists from Texas A&M University examined whether specific personality traits can predict who thrives, and who chokes, when making decisions under pressure.

Previous research, conducted by Sian Beilock and Thomas Carr, has shown that although individuals may be highly competent in low-pressure contexts, their performance may significantly decrease once the pressure is on. One explanation for why this happens is that anxiety acts as a distractor, sapping cognitive resources such as working memory away from the task at hand and ultimately harming performance.

On the basis of this previous work, Kaileigh Byrne, Crina Silasi-Mansat, and Darrell Worthy hypothesized that individuals with higher levels of neuroticism would experience greater performance…


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