Category: Teams

Overconfidence Can Be Transmitted From Person To Person

By Emma Young

There will always be some people within a group who are more confident than others. But some groups as a whole tend towards modesty — as with the !Kung hunters of the Kalahari Desert, for example, who deliberately downplay their own achievements and efforts. However, the opposite can also occur — and widespread overconfidence can of course become a problem, as with the US energy company Enron, whose “culture of arrogance” ultimately led to its downfall.

These two examples are highlighted in a new paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, which reveals a route by which a bias towards overconfidence can develop. In their paper, Joey T Cheng at York University and colleagues first propose and then provide evidence for the idea that if we’re exposed to people who are overconfident, this rubs off on us. In other words, we calibrate our self-assessments based on the confidence level of those around us. Overconfidence can, then, be transmitted socially — and this could help to explain how groups, teams and organisations form their own, sometimes drastically different, confidence norms.

Continue reading “Overconfidence Can Be Transmitted From Person To Person”

Find a gym buddy – not letting them down can be a powerful incentive

GettyImages-668194250.jpgBy guest blogger Juliet Hodges

Spreading information about the benefits of exercise – including how it reduces the risk of chronic diseases and improves mental health and wellbeing, from sleep quality to self-esteem – hasn’t been enough to change people’s behaviour. Only 30 to 40 per cent of adults in the UK say they get the recommended amount of physical activity per week, and this figure drops to just 5 per cent when using accelerometers to measure movement. It’s a similar story even for people who have made the effort to join a gym – in a recent poll, a third of members reported visiting their gym three times a year or less. It seems we need to get more creative to persuade people to get active.

To test out some innovative psychological approaches, a new study published in the Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics selected 181 infrequent gym-goers at the University of West Chester, who went on average less than once a week before the experiment. All students at the university have free access to the fitness centre, and their attendance is automatically recorded when they swipe in.

Continue reading “Find a gym buddy – not letting them down can be a powerful incentive”

Episode 9: How To Get The Best From Your Team

Image via Julianne/Flickr

This is Episode 9 of PsychCrunch, the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Download here.

Can psychology help us work together better in teams? Our presenter Christian Jarrett hears about the benefits of appointing a “meta-knowledge champion” for the team, making sure everyone has contact with the team’s “extra miler”, and why you should think carefully about the physical space that you do your teamwork in.

Our guests in order of appearance: Dr Julija Mell (Essec Business School), Dr Alex Fradera (Research Digest writer), and Dr Katherine Greenaway (University of Queensland).

Studies discussed in the episode:

Episode credits: Presented and produced by Dr Christian Jarrett. Mixing and editing Jeff Knowler. Vox pops Ella Rhodes. PsychCrunch theme music Catherine Loveday and Jeff Knowler. Additional music Zander Sehkri/Zeroday Productions (via Pond5). Art work Tim Grimshaw.

Check out this episode!

Subscribe and download via iTunes.
Subscribe and download via Stitcher.
Subscribe and listen on Spotify.

Past episodes:

Episode one: Dating and Attraction.
Episode two: Breaking Bad Habits.
Episode three: How to Win an Argument.
Episode four: The Psychology of Gift Giving.
Episode five: How To Learn a New Language.
Episode six: How To Be Sarcastic 😉
Episode seven: Use Psychology To Compete Like an Olympian.
Episode eight: Can We Trust Psychological Studies?

PsychCrunch is sponsored by Routledge Psychology.

PsychCrunch Banner April 16

Routledge interviewed PsychCrunch presenter Christian Jarrett about the aims of the podcast and engaging with the public about psychology research.

“In-group infamy” – we have a lasting memory for colleagues who let the side down

Coworkers in a meetingBy Alex Fradera

Are we more likely to remember the good or the bad done by people on our team? In general, we favour our own group over outsiders, classically demonstrated by Henri Tajfel’s “minimal group” experiments, in which sorting people into groups by something as arbitrary as a coin toss resulted in higher positive ratings of traits of in-group members, and more negativity towards out-group members. You might expect, then, that we’re disposed to remember our colleagues’ good behavior. But new research in Cognition shows us that the opposite is true.

Continue reading ““In-group infamy” – we have a lasting memory for colleagues who let the side down”

The causes and consequences of thinking there’s an office conspiracy

Businessman eavesdropping on businesswomanBy Alex Fradera

We’re all familiar with gossip in the workplace, both the benign variety – did you know Tom is applying for X-Factor? – as well as more serious talk concerned with perceived injustices, such as the real reason for that recent promotion. When such speculations insinuate a group working together to achieve secret ends, we’re into the realm of conspiracy theory. New research in the British Journal of Psychology suggests that conspiracy theories about the workplace are a thermometer for an employee’s broader feelings about the organisation … including his or her ultimate commitment to it. Continue reading “The causes and consequences of thinking there’s an office conspiracy”

When staff absenteeism seems catching, it could be the team culture that’s sick

When the morning alarm carves us out of our slumber, restoring the previous night’s raspy throat and foggy head, we have a decision to make: get up and go, or call in sick. What happens next is influenced by workplace norms about whether absence is commonplace or exceptional, a current pulling us towards the office or letting us settle back into bed. But new research in Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processing from a Dutch-Canadian team, led by Lieke ten Brummelhuis, suggests this isn’t automatic: we’re more likely to fight against the tide when we care about our team, and when we know our absence will cost them.

The researchers asked 299 participants recruited online – American adults with an average of 20 years job experience and who worked in a team of three or more members – to imagine either that over the last three months someone had been absent from their team almost every week, although the understaffing had finally ended, or that their full team had been present throughout that period. Next they were to imagine that they were feeling a little out of sorts, although not actually ill, and were considering calling in sick to their workplace. The participants’ simply had to say whether they would choose to call in sick. Finally, they completed a survey about their attitude toward their real-life team.

As expected, participants asked to imagine high absence in their team were more likely to decide to call in sick, but still a majority did not. Ten Brummelhuis’ team looked at the 19 per cent who did take a sickie, finding that they considered their relationship with their real-life team to be more transactional in nature – for instance by affirming statements like “I watch very carefully what I get from my team, relative to what I contribute.” Meanwhile, the 81 per cent who chose not to call in sick were significantly more likely to sign off on statements like “My relationship with my team members is based on mutual trust.” This fits with the researchers’ thesis, based on social exchange theory, that although absence typically begets absence, this may be neutralised when the team has developed a trusting relationship rather than a tit-for-tat attitude to hassles.

The researchers next looked to deepen their understanding using actual worker absenteeism rates from a three-month period. They recruited hundreds of participants from Dutch companies in industries including health, facilities and commercial services, comprising 97 teams with an average of 8 members. Again, a given team member was more likely to take more sick days when their co-worker absence was greater. But this association was weaker in more cohesive, tight-knit teams, supplementing the finding from the online experiment. In addition, participants were less influenced by high rates of others’ absence when work within their team was highly interconnected and interdependent – when your day is made very difficult by the absence of a team-mate, you’re more aware of that cost and less prepared to inflict it on others without good reason.

Absence costs around 200 billion annually in the US economy, so understanding the factors that contribute to inessential absence matters to organisations. Tackling an absence culture where employees “repay co-workers” absence by calling in sick  means looking at the nature of work performed by a team, to amplify and clarify its interconnected nature. And it means supporting high-quality relations within a team, in which a hard week in an understaffed office isn’t earning a credit to spend later, but a matter of duty, because someone you care about needs that recovery time.


ten Brummelhuis, L., Johns, G., Lyons, B., & ter Hoeven, C. (2016). Why and when do employees imitate the absenteeism of co-workers? Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 134, 16-30 DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2016.04.001

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

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Minimalist, anonymous rooms are probably not a good place to do teamwork

According to the philosophy of “lean space management”, a minimalist workspace shorn of clutter is distraction-free and ideal for productivity. But this philosophy turns out to have slim empirical foundations, and as promoting a sense of identity at work, including personalising the work space, generally leads to better outcomes, there’s reason to expect richer, characterful workplaces to be more beneficial. A new article in the Journal of Personnel Psychology builds on this past work, showing that rich and meaningful workplace decor produces better team performance than lean spaces, even in surprising contexts.

Katherine Greenaway and her colleagues asked 54 students (45 women) to form teams of three or four members. The researchers then explained to each team that there were Red teams and Blue teams and that theirs was a Red team. This was a ruse because in reality all teams were told that theirs was a Red team. To stoke a sense of competition,  the researchers added that the participants’ team performance and that of other Red teams would be compared against the rival Blue teams. The participants then had a chance to get to know their team-mates and to personalise their own team room with a poster that they made together and with red decorations.

But the teams couldn’t enjoy this for long, as a contrived double booking meant they were cast out from their room into a new work environment that they were told had recently housed another team. Some teams were rehoused in a lean, undecorated room; others in a room that had clearly been used by a Red team; and the remainder in a room that was dressed up as Blue territory.

In this new environment, the teams had to complete a task: finding words in a grid, and then using them to construct sentences. The researchers found that teams moved to a friendly Red room or an unfriendly Blue room performed better than those placed in a lean room.

Remember, the decorations were based on the arbitrary, colour-themed team allocation process, so their specifics couldn’t have been profoundly inspiring. Nor could they represent a shared and personal endeavour: in all cases, the teams’ own poster that they made and their decorative decisions were out of sight in another room.

In the case of those teams rehoused in a different Red room, some insight into their better performance comes from an attitude survey the participants took after the word task. They tended to give higher ratings to items like “I identify with the group that was in this room before us”. It seems the room triggered or sustained a general feeling of “Reds together” and the data suggested this identification drove their better performance.

What about the finding of superior team performance in a Blue-room? The researchers had predicted that being in enemy territory might spark competitive feelings that would boost performance, at least in the short-term. The teams placed in a Blue room did indeed feel more competitive but there was no sign in the data that this was linked with superior performance, so there’s still a question mark over this part of the study.

All in all, the research suggests that workspaces with a rich character are more supportive of team performance than those built for anonymity. As the authors conclude: meaning beats leaning.


Greenaway, K., Thai, H., Haslam, S., & Murphy, S. (2016). Spaces That Signal Identity Improve Workplace Productivity Journal of Personnel Psychology, 15 (1), 35-43 DOI: 10.1027/1866-5888/a000148

further reading
Why it’s important that employers let staff personalise their workspaces
The supposed benefits of open-plan offices do not outweigh the costs

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

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Teams are more creative when their leader is confident in her or his own creativity

If you’re wondering who to appoint to run a team with creative goals, you might favour a non-creative, reasoning that it’s down to the team members to generate creativity, with the person at the top acting more as driver and dogged coordinator. However, new research in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes suggests that teams produce more creative outcomes when their managers have greater confidence in their own creativity.

Lei Huang of Auburn University and his collaborators surveyed 106 team leaders in a large tech company based in the US, canvassing their creative self-efficacy (CSE): their belief in their own ability to complete creative goals, as measured through survey items like “I have confidence in my ability to solve problems creatively.”

The researchers also surveyed team members, 544 in all, who had spent an average of four years in the company. They said they were more willing to focus on creative activities – “I spend considerable time sifting through information that helps to generate new ideas” – when they were led by an individual who had scored higher in CSE; they also rated high CSE leaders as being more encouraging of creativity. These effects were amplified when team members felt they had better relationships with their manager. Did team members with creatively confident leaders actually deliver more creative work? Yes, at least according to the team leaders: those who scored higher on CSE were more likely to report that their teams were a “good source of creative ideas”.

To sum up, modelling of the data showed that creatively confident leaders had teams more invested in creative activities, that saw the leadership as encouraging creativity (all the more when relationships were strong), and that produced more creative work overall. Now, you could imagine the opposite to be the case: that creative leaders pursue their own creative ideas to the cost of supporting their followers, and are reluctant to view what their followers produce as creative, due to their own higher bar for what counts as such. No doubt such cases exist. But this study suggests that in normal functioning leadership contexts, managers recognise that the route for delivering the kind of work they care about is through their followers, so if they want creative results, they have to facilitate it, not produce it personally. In addition, people higher in CSE are known to be less conformist and receptive to ideas; they get creative behaviours.

One weakness of this study is that the measure of team creative performance was subjective, and moreover, rated by the leaders themselves. It could be that creative-minded leaders are more ready to see the creativity in team members. So Huang’s team recommend future work with objective ratings or via ratings by other coworkers.

Creative self-efficacy is likely not the only trait that disposes leaders to encourage creativity, but it is one of the few so far explicitly identified by research. And the good news is self-efficacy can be developed. So organisations may want to look at how to foster their leaders’ confidence in their own creative skills: this will boost their motivation to generate new approaches, and help them recognise that the risks and occasional failures along the way are worthwhile.


Huang, L., Krasikova, D., & Liu, D. (2016). I can do it, so can you: The role of leader creative self-efficacy in facilitating follower creativity Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 132, 49-62 DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2015.12.002

further reading
Mixing your teams up is key to group creativity
Why it’s so important that team members believe they’re on the same page
Jokey team meetings are more productive, as long as people laugh along
Reverse psychology: How bad managers inspire team camaraderie

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

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How do popular kids behave in a cooperative task with a classmate?

Popular girls showed more skilful leadership than others, popular boys showed less. 

In classrooms around the world, there’s an unwritten hierarchy, with most of the kids knowing each other’s standing in terms of popularity. Past psychology research has looked into the ways that children and teens attain this status, including the ability to influence their peers, either in skilful, sensitive ways or through coercion and manipulation. A new study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology takes a different approach by looking at how popular children, aged 11, behave when they participate in a one-on-one cooperative task with a randomly chosen classmate. Away from the eyes of the rest of the class, will they be rude and pushy, or show tact and leadership?

Tessa Lansu and Antonius Cillessen recruited 218 eleven-year-old girls and boys from nine schools in middle-class communities to complete a cooperative task in same-sex pairs. The task required each pair of children to sit at a computer together and fill out a form about planning a classroom party, including making decisions about the time and date, and what snacks would be on offer. A webcam recorded the discussions which took about ten minutes. Before this, all the children had answered questions about who was the most and least popular child in their class. The researchers used these ratings to ascertain each child’s overall popularity.

Three judges coded the videos of the interactions for various behaviours, including skilful leadership (essentially when one child got the other one to follow their lead, but in a flexible way that took account of the other child’s feelings and goals), overall influence, coercive or bossy behaviour and submissive behaviour.

Perhaps the most striking finding was the sex difference that emerged: the more popular girls were with their class as a whole, the more skilful leadership they showed in the cooperative task with a single class-mate. By contrast, boys’ class popularity was associated with their showing less skilful leadership in the task. Overall, peer popularity was a more significant factor in the girls’ interactions than the boys, also being associated with their having more influence and showing less submissive behaviour.

The researchers also looked at how a child’s behaviour in the task was related to the popularity of their partner. Both girls and boys adopted a low profile when they were collaborating with a popular partner: they tended to avoid using coercion and any negative behaviour, suggesting they did not want to upset their popular classmate. “Interaction partners of high-status adolescents may keep a low profile because they are aware of the capabilities of the high-status influential peer,” the researchers said. These results could also be interpreted the other way around, though, as showing that children were happier to bully and coerce classmates who were unpopular in class.

This is a very new area of study and there were some issues with the methods, including the fact the people coding the videos of the interactions didn’t always agree on the nature of the behaviours on display. Also, the data only speak to the relevance of class popularity to behaviour in same-sex partnerships, and to behaviour in a cooperative task, as opposed to a competitive task or other one-on-one situation. Still, these are fascinating results ripe for follow-up. For example, can the observed sex differences be explained by possible differences in the ways girls and boys attain popularity: boys using group-level leadership, girls juggling numerous one-on-one relationships?

There could be practical insights here too. “If a teacher wants to promote assertiveness and leadership in a girl, having her work with a highly popular peer might not be the best option because the popular peer’s reputation or behaviour could evoke submissive behaviour in the girl,” the researchers said. “Instead, the teacher could pair her with an average-status peer, or maybe explicitly assign a more submissive role to the peer with whom she would be interacting, in order to promote the girl’s assertiveness.”

  ResearchBlogging.orgLansu, T., & Cillessen, A. (2015). Associations of group level popularity with observed behavior and influence in a dyadic context Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 140, 92-104 DOI: 10.1016/j.jecp.2015.06.016

further reading
A child’s popularity is related to where the teacher seats them in the classroom
What happens to the cool kids when they grow up?

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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Self-doubting bosses prefer to delegate to self-doubting staff

It’s possible to earn great success in your professional career, rise to great heights, but all the while experience the “imposter phenomenon“: the sense that your position is undeserved, your unmasking possible at any time. For people like this, who doubt their own abilities, it would seem wise to rely on others who are confident they can get things done. But new research published in Personality and Individual Differences suggests the opposite: the more prone managers are to that imposter feeling, the more they choose to delegate tasks to those who also feel unworthy.

Myriam Bechtoldt of the Frankfurt School of Management recruited 190 managers – all highly educated – and had them complete online surveys that measured their identification with imposterism, including feeling like a fake, attributing one’s current position to luck, and feeling unworthy of praise for past successes.

Following this, the managers had to decide how to delegate six work activities, half of which were routine, such as compiling a mailing list or organising an outing, while the remainder were more challenging, such as making an important presentation or developing a mission statement.

The four junior candidates available to complete these delegated tasks were described in short profiles, which presented them all as similar: all highly competent, all qualified, all hungry to prove themselves. They differed only in gender, and the fact that one male and female candidate were described as self-confident, whereas the other two were described as secretly doubting their abilities.

The results were clear: the higher a manager scored on feelings of imposterism, the more they preferred to delegate to another self-doubter, and this was true for tasks of all stripes.

Why did this happen? Bechtoldt believes it a simple matter of self-image. In the self-doubting candidates, imposter participants see some part of themselves, and prefer to rely on someone with a similar mindset – even though self-confident people are on average a surer bet, being more ambitious about outcomes and persevering more through problems.

It may also be that the participants feel the urge to give their counterparts a leg up the ladder, perhaps treating them as a proxy for their own journey, and trying to convince themselves that a self-doubting profile can still reliably succeed. I should note that Bechtoldt doesn’t see such a strategic motive at work, arguing that explanation would account only for delegation of the high impact activities, not the menial ones that were unlikely to raise anyone’s profile. Further study will tell.

Is this result good news or bad for a typical organisation? The fact that low-confident, high ability workers will be given a chance to prove themselves by like-minded superiors could be a source of relief – although if such people are favoured to take on duties of every sort, this could turn out to be a source of stress for them. More broadly, the result is another example of organisational cloning, where leaders look to stack their ranks with those who most resemble them, even though a degree of diversity – here, a mix of those who self-doubt and those who are self-sure – is what helps organisations flourish.


Bechtoldt, M. (2015). Wanted: Self-doubting employees—Managers scoring positively on impostorism favor insecure employees in task delegation Personality and Individual Differences, 86, 482-486 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2015.07.002

further reading
Feeling like a fraud: The psychology of the impostor phenomenon

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

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