If you’re a psychopath who’s good with numbers, you could make the perfect hedge fund manager. Your lack of empathy will allow you to capitalise blithely on the financial losses of others, while your ability to stomach high-risk, but potentially high-return, options will send your fund value soaring…. Well, that’s the story that’s been painted by popular media, folk wisdom and Wall Street insiders alike. The problem, according to a new paper in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, is that hedge fund managers with psychopathic tendencies actually make less money for their clients.
“She upset me.” Such a natural way to describe things, using the same causal language we use to talk about a racket striking a tennis ball. But is this the right way to frame our reactions to social situations? Unlike a ball, we have a say in how we swerve when struck, and what we bring to a social situation influences how it affects us. Case in point, from a US-based team headed by Andrew Woolum of the University of North Carolina Wilmington: in research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology they show how people perceive more workplace rudeness when exposed to notions of rudeness at the start of the day.
There are certain situations where it’s advantageous for an introvert to take charge. For instance, perhaps they are better qualified than their extroverted peers. The trouble is, most introverts tend to shy away from seizing informal leadership opportunities when they arise (psychologists call this “emergent leadership” – when someone takes charge in a team without a formal hierarchy).
A new study in Personality and Individual Differences suggests this might be because introverts expect to find group tasks and situations unpleasant, which inhibits them from displaying the kind of behaviours required to take charge of their group. By helping introverts to realise they may enjoy leadership more than they expect, Andrew Spark and his colleagues at Queensland University of Technology say it may be possible to encourage more introverts to step up to the plate.
When we find our work meaningful and worthwhile, we are more likely to enjoy it, to be more productive, and feel committed to our employers and satisfied with our jobs. For obvious reasons, then, work psychologists have been trying to find out what factors contribute to people finding more meaning in their work.
Top of the list is what they call “task significance”, which in plain English means believing that the work you do is of benefit to others. However, to date, most of the evidence for the importance of task significance has been correlational – workers who see how their work is beneficial to others are more likely to find it meaningful, but that doesn’t mean that task significance is causing the feelings of meaningfulness.
Now Blake Allan at Purdue University has provided some of the first longitudinal evidence that seeing our work as benefiting others really does lead to an increase in our finding it meaningful. “These results are important both for the wellbeing of individual workers and as a potential avenue to increase productivity,” he concludes in the Journal of Vocational Behaviour.
A new analysis of elite tennis performance in the Journal of Economic Psychology is consistent with this account. Based on the outcome of thousands of games played across the four tennis Grand Slams in 2010, the researchers led by Danny Cohen-Zada at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, found that men were adversely affected by high pressure by about twice as much as women. Extrapolating to the world of work, Cohen-Zada and his colleagues said this casts doubt on the argument that the gender pay gap is due to women’s inability to compete under pressure, though they acknowledged there are caveats to this conclusion.
As the first cohort of women leaders began pushing up against the glass ceiling, many hoped it would shatter… but it only cracked. Today fewer than 10 per cent of Fortune 500 companies are led by people from ethnic minority groups and women combined, and although the reasons are manifold, blame has been laid at the feet of the early pioneers themselves.
The accusation is that successful people from underrepresented groups act as gatekeepers, keeping out others to maintain their special status and to identify with the dominant majority (the most famous example being the Queen Bee syndrome where a female boss undermines other women). But new research from the Academy of Management Journal suggests a different and very understandable reason that minority members are cautious to show enthusiasm for increasing diversity – because they know it could spell disaster for their own career if they did.
In the lab, psychologists have shown how generosity propagates and spreads. If someone is kind to us, we tend to “pay it forward” and act more generously to someone else when given the chance. But it’s not clear if these findings are realistic. For example, when we’re juggling priorities on a busy work day, might receiving an act of kindness actually be a nuisance, leaving us feeling indebted to return the favour when we’ve got more important things to do? An uplifting new study in the journal Emotion looks at acts of altruism within a real-life working environment, and shows how kindness really does ripple outwards from a good deed.
If there’s one quality you absolutely want in a leader, it’s surely charisma. Celebrated leaders are invariably associated with this magic word, and evidence suggests charismatic people inspire more trust, commitment, and results from their followers. But across a number of other supposedly virtuous traits, such as political ability or assertiveness (pdf), researchers are starting to realise that it’s possible to have “too much of a good thing.” Could charisma fall in that category? That’s the suggestion of new research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Have you heard the riddle about the doctor? A father and his son are involved in a car accident and taken to different hospitals, the boy to a children’s hospital and the father to the general hospital. When the boy arrives at hospital, the doctor on call is shocked, saying “I can’t treat this boy, he’s my son!” The question is: who’s the doctor? The answer, as with many riddles, is obvious once you know it: the doctor is the boy’s mother. Years ago when I first heard this riddle, I was stumped, even though the only doctor I had contact with in my own life happened to be a woman. The very fact that this question works as a riddle is testament to the strength of negative stereotypes surrounding women’s scientific abilities.
Women who take degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects do just as well as their male colleagues, even though they are far outnumbered by them: in the UK, only 14 per cent of engineering and technology students, and 17 per cent of computer science students are women. The picture is similar in the USA, where Catherine Riegle-Crumb and Karisma Morton carried out a study, published recently in Frontiers in Psychology, to investigate why the numbers are so low.
Most employers like their workers to think of themselves not as employees but as “citizens” of the organisation, proactively engaging in activities like helping others out or coming up with company improvements – activities that aren’t specified in a job description yet help the organisation thrive. But more and more, these supposedly discretional citizenship behaviours are being demanded by managers more overtly – outlined in ‘The Way We Work’ documents, or threatened informally as necessary to get ahead. Now an article in the Academy of Management Journal suggests being forced to be a good citizen has some perverse consequences: when you’re grudgingly good, you become blasé about doing bad.