Happy New Year!

How’s your year shaping up? So far, spring semester is starting out better than expected.

This was in my work mailbox. It may not even have been meant for me. But it’s a nice bottle of Kendall-Jackson chardonnay, and I’m taking it home.

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Work stress could be making your commute dangerous

11723980056_c0d5d0b70b_kBy Alex Fradera

British workers spend on average one hour commuting each day, and 57 per cent of commuters make their daily journeys by car. But this is a part of our lives we don’t talk much about, beyond the odd epithet about the traffic; maybe because it’s a strange time, betwixt home and work but not fully either. Potentially, the drive to work is a haven: I recall my mother’s glove compartment crammed with audio books, so she could enjoy those stretches of solo time. But it’s more liable to be caught in a crossfire of worries, fretting about Daniel’s pensive moods at the breakfast table, or anticipating criticisms about the last sales pitch. New research from the University of Haifa suggests these psychological stressors can make our time on the road not just unpleasant, but dangerous as well.

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Going to lunch? Put your phone away.

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.

While research investigating work breaks shows that the mental timeouts are essential for keeping employees focused and productive, Rhee and Kim also suspected that, unlike taking a walk or chatting with friends, scrolling through apps on a smartphone might actually sap cognitive resources rather than restoring them.

“For example, unlike a paper book or newspaper, online news or blog content consists of not only the main text but also numerous hyperlinks including related footnotes to the main article or unrelated advertisements,” Rhee and Kim write.

Ignoring digital ads, picking which link to click on next, responding to texts and messages – not to mention multi-tasking between all of these tasks – requires focused attention and concentration. Essentially, using a smartphone during a break might be just as cognitively demanding as work itself, leaving people feeling even more fatigued at the end of their break.

For the experiment, employees at several organizations were sent a self-administered online survey asking them about how they spent their lunchtime breaks. Around 200 people said they usually used their smartphone during their break and 220 individuals said they did other activities that didn’t require any type of screen (i.e., taking a walk, reading a book, chatting with colleagues).

To determine whether people were feeling re-energized after their lunch breaks, participants answered a series of questions assessing their levels of positive and negative affect and detachment from work during their break, and a second survey on energy levels and emotional exhaustion after their break.

Employees who used their smartphone during their lunch break reported significantly higher levels of emotional exhaustion later in the day compared to their peers. Additionally, those who took a regular break (one without a smartphone) reported less negative affect after taking a break. Smartphone users, on the other hand, did not receive a bump in mood after their break.

A growing body of research also suggests that the use of electronic devices, like smartphones, after work may end up impeding sleep by disrupting the secretion of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin.

“In sum, research to date has consistently shown that mobile device and media usage prior to bedtime is associated with reduced sleep time and quality,” Duke University researchers Madeleine J. George and Candice L. Odgers write in Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Rhee and Kim argue that, although more research is needed, organizations should keep these results in mind. Managers may want to find ways to foster an environment where employees abandon their smartphones in favor of other, potentially more rejuvenating, activities like chatting with friends or taking a walk.


George, M. J., & Odgers, C. L. (2015). Seven fears and the science of how mobile technologies may be influencing adolescents in the digital age. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(6), 832-851. doi: 10.1177/1745691615596788

Rhee, H., & Kim, S. (2016). Effects of breaks on regaining vitality at work: An empirical comparison of ‘conventional’ and ‘smart phone’ breaks. Computers in Human Behavior, 57, 160-167. http://bit.ly/2dNdRs7

from Minds for Business – Association for Psychological Science http://bit.ly/2edmvhP


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The Right Music Can Make People More Cooperative

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 end up in a good mood. In a 2010 study published in Psychological Science, University of Western Ontario graduate student Ruby Nadler and colleagues found that participants who listened to snippets of upbeat music (such as Vivaldi’s “Spring”) outperformed those who listened neutral or sad music during a pattern recognition task.

To invoke a good mood in their experiment, Kniffin and colleagues selected peppy songs such as “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles; “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves; “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison; and the theme song from “Happy Days.” The unhappy music playlist included a mix of songs from grindcore metal bands Attack Attack! and Iwrestledabearonce (some on Wikipedia argue that Iwrestledabearonce’s oeuvre should really be classified as punk mathcore).

For the first experiment, 78 college students were randomly assigned to listen to either “happy” music or “unhappy” music over an audio system while completing an economic cooperation task. Each student was seated at an individual computer station with a privacy hood while music was played over the room’s speakers.

During each round of the game, they had the option of allocating a portion of their own store of tokens, which represented small amounts of actual cash, to a shared pool with two other unknown players. Tokens added to the group pool were multiplied in value by 1.5, providing a strong incentive for cooperation.

Across 20 rounds of this game, the participants listening to happy music were found to be more cooperative, contributing more tokens to the shared pot compared to those listening to unhappy music.

In a second experiment, 188 participants were again randomly assigned to listen to either happy music or unhappy music, but this time the researchers also included a control group who did not listen to any music. Participants also completed a short mood assessment survey before, during, and after the experiment.

Again, the researchers “found significantly and persistently higher levels of cooperative behavior by participants who were played Happy music when compared with the other two conditions.”

The mood assessments showed that although mood was relatively consistent across the conditions at the very beginning of the experiment, mood declined for those listening to unhappy music compared to the control group. Essentially, pleasant music seemed to inspire a good mood which led to greater cooperation between teammates.

The researchers note that they did not account for potentially important variables, such as personality traits, that might moderate links among music, mood, and cooperation. Future research could also benefit from more naturalistic experiments, such as allowing participants to select their own music.

Music is an easy way to help boost employees’ mood on the job, which may ultimately help organization create a more positive and cooperative workplace. Choosing music everyone can enjoy may be the bigger challenge; while one person may prefer Mozart, someone else’s good mood inspiration may be Celine Dion or Nodes of Ranvier.



Kniffin, K. M., Yan, J., Wansink, B., & Schulze, W. D. (2016). The sound of cooperation: Musical influences on cooperative behavior. Journal of Organizational Behavior. doi: 10.1002/job.2128

Nadler, R. T., Rabi, R., & Minda, J. P. (2010). Better mood and better performance learning rule-described categories is enhanced by positive mood. Psychological Science, 21(12), 1770-1776. doi: 10.1177/0956797610387441

from Minds for Business – Association for Psychological Science http://bit.ly/2cOlJce


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Is BookBub worth it? (And other surprises in my author journey)

Here are my reflections on what marketing tactics have and have not worked for me.

The publishing industry is changing so quickly that business plans become obsolete almost as soon as they’re written.

My conclusion? Community is everything. Authors have to help one another. And the “sure things” aren’t, necessarily.


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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: We’re terrible at it – even when we’re corresponding with our friends.

In one study, participants were assigned to write an email that would evoke one particular emotion, such as disappointment after trying a new restaurant or happiness about getting asked out on a date. Participants then sent these emails to both friends and strangers also enrolled in the study. Both friends and strangers rated the emails for the presence of eight basic emotions, and then sent their own response emails. Additionally, everyone rated how confident they felt in their ability to accurately identify the intended emotional tone of the email.

Although participants were highly confident in their interpretations, especially when communicating with a friend, this confidence had no relationship with accuracy.

“It is clear from this study that readers can determine that we are angry, but cannot determine HOW angry,” said Riordan. “The loss of this subtlety could lead to consequences in many forms– especially in our relationships, where the difference between annoyance and rage can be vast, and a simple misinterpretation of an intended emotion can lead to a drastic alteration in that emotion.”

Research from a team led by Adam D. Galinsky (Northwestern University) finds that when people are in a position of power they’re even worse at accurately predicting how others will interpret a sarcastic comment.

In one experiment, 42 college students read a scenario in which they went to a fancy restaurant recommended by a colleague’s friend, but had a particularly bad dining experience. The next day, an email was sent to the friend who made the recommendation stating only, “About the restaurant, it was marvelous, just marvelous.” Participants then used a 6-point scale to indicate how they thought the friend would interpret the comment, ranging from very sarcastic to very sincere.

Before reading the restaurant scenario, participants were randomly assigned to a high-power or a low-power condition. High-power participants were instructed to recall and write about a personal incident in which they had power over individuals. Participants assigned to the low-power condition were instructed to write about a personal incident in which someone else had power over them.

The results showed that those assigned to the high-power group were much more likely to assume, perhaps mistakenly, that the friend would think the email was clearly sarcastic.

“These findings support our prediction that power leads individuals to anchor too heavily on their own vantage point, insufficiently adjusting to other individuals’ perspectives,” Galinsky and colleagues write in Psychological Science.

If it’s so easy to misinterpret a written message, what can people do to help make their intentions clear? University of Nottingham psychological scientists Dominic Thompson and Ruth Filik found that the use of an expressive smiley face emoticon (such as : ) or ^.^) can provide a helpful cue for when messages are meant sarcastically.

Participants were shown a list of short text message conversations and asked how they would make it clear that a response text was to be taken either literally or sarcastically.

You: So how was the interview?

Friend:  I really can’t tell…

You: Well, you didn’t look confident

In this example, participants would be prompted to modify the wording of the final response in the exchange in such a way as to clearly communicate either sarcasm or a straightforward response. There was no specific mention of emoticons or images.

The results showed that people were “significantly more likely to use emoticons to aid understanding in sarcastic comments than literal ones.” Emoticons were also more likely to occur in texts articulating praise rather than criticism.

Specifically, Thompson and Filik found that the tongue out (:p) and wink (; )) emoticons were the most closely linked with marking sarcasm, and almost never appeared in any condition except for marking sarcasm.

“Importantly, this suggests emoticons may actually be more efficient than ‘standard’ language for marking sarcastic intent,” Thompson and Filik conclude. “That is, the intention can be communicated more quickly via an emoticon than via additional words or phrases, in a way somewhat similar to nonverbal cues in speech.”



Galinsky, A. D., Magee, J. C., Inesi, M. E., & Gruenfeld, D. H. (2006). Power and perspectives not taken. Psychological Science, 17(12), 1068-1074. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01824.x

Riordan, M. A., & Trichtinger, L. A. (2016). Overconfidence at the Keyboard: Confidence and accuracy in interpreting affect in e‐mail exchanges. Human Communication Research. doi: 10.1111/hcre.12093

Thompson, D., & Filik, R. (2016). Sarcasm in written communication: Emoticons are efficient markers of intention. Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication, 21(2), 105-120. doi: 10.1111/jcc4.12156

from Minds for Business – Association for Psychological Science http://bit.ly/2dpqz1U


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Resolve Your Toughest Problems with 5 Questions

In Managing in the Gray, Joseph Badaracco offers managers a five-question framework for facing murky situations and solving tough problems at work.

Approaching a problem as a manager means working with others and doing all you can to really understand the problem. “You don’t decide these things in splendid isolation or with brilliant insights. You get data and use the tools you have to analyze it with other people.” In gray areas, however, discussion and analysis doesn’t produce a final decision. Badaracco says that in these instances, “somebody finally has to say this is what we are going to do and this is why, and that takes an act of judgment.”

Badaracco provides five questions that work as guidelines for making gray-area decisions:

  1. What are the net, net consequences?
  2. What are my core obligations?
  3. What will work in the world as it is?
  4. Who are we?
  5. What can I live with?

“Versions of these questions run through so much of the serious thinking about hard decisions that you find in philosophy, theology, and literature,” he says.

from HBS Working Knowledge http://hbs.me/2bQMmht


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A Good Mood is a Good Motivator

paff_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.

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Why It’s So Hard to Shake a Bad First Impression

PAFF_072816_BadImpressions_newsfeatureA new study demonstrates that shaking a negative first impression is often diabolically difficult, providing just one more reason to make sure that you show up on time for your next job interview.

“Moral and immoral behaviors often come in small doses. A person might donate just a few dollars to charity or cheat on just one exam question,” explain University of Chicago psychological scientists Nadav Klein and Ed O’Brien. But how many positive or negative acts must a person undertake before we change our minds about someone?

Across five experiments, Klein and O’Brien found that this moral tipping point is asymmetric — a moral improvement takes a lot more work for us to notice compared to a moral decline, even if the evidence is we observe is the same in each case. In other words, “it is apparently easier to become a sinner than a saint, despite exhibiting equivalent evidence for change.”

In one experiment, Klein and O’Brien attempted to measure the moral tipping point – the number of behaviors that will change our assessment of someone. A group of 201 participants took part in an online study in which they read a scenario about an average office worker named Barbara. All of the participants were told that Barbara’s personality was pretty neutral; most of the time her behavior towards her colleagues was inoffensive, but occasionally she was especially nice (e.g., holding the door, giving compliments) while other times she was kind of a jerk (e.g., cutting in line, spreading gossip).

Participants were then told that there had been a change in Barbara’s behavior over a period of several weeks. One group of participants was told that Barbara was now doing many more nice things and another group was told she was now doing many more mean things. Participants were then asked how many weeks of this behavior change (1 – 16 weeks) would convince them she had made a substantial moral change as a person.

When Barbara’s behavior turned mean, it only took a few weeks for participants to conclude that she had taken a turn for the worse. However, it took many more weeks of positive behavior to convince people that Barbara was changing for the better.

“Put another way, these results suggest an asymmetry in the moral tipping point that truly depends on valence: it takes relatively few bad actions to be seen as changed for the worse, but relatively many good actions to be seen as changed for the better,” the researchers explain.

In another online experiment, 200 female participants read a very similar scenario, but this time the information about their coworker’s behavior changes was presented in increments. After reading that the coworker had shown a change in behavior for a whole week, participants were asked whether they were convinced this person’s moral character had “officially” improved or declined. If they responded “yes,” the session ended. If they responded “no,” they were told the behavior had continued for another week and were asked if the personality change had tipped.

Again, the results showed that people were much quicker at concluding the change in behavior showed a moral decline and much slower at acknowledging moral improvement.

“People apparently need to commit just a few bad actions to appear substantively changed for the worse, but need to commit many good actions to appear substantively changed for the better,” Klein and O’Brien report.

A recent article published in Perspectives on Psychological Science demonstrates just how influential small acts can be in our assessment of another person’s morality. In one experiment, participants were told about a company hiring a new CEO. One of the candidates requested an expensive marble table as a perk. Participants found this request so morally appalling that they “reported a preference for paying an additional $1 million in salary to a different job candidate just to avoid hiring a candidate whose salary request included a $40,000 marble table.”

Participants viewed a candidate who asked for such perks as more likely to act on his own selfish interests rather than the good of the company.

In their article, Klein and O’Brien argue that it’s important to be aware of this strong bias against negative information. Because the threshold for forming negative impressions is much lower than positive ones, we may want to be more open to giving people opportunities to redeem themselves after a bad first impression.



Klein, N., & O’Brien, E. (2016). The Tipping Point of Moral Change: When Do Good and Bad Acts Make Good and Bad Actors?. Social Cognition34(2), 149. doi: 10.1521/soco.2016.34.2.149

Uhlmann, E. L., Pizarro, D. A., & Diermeier, D. (2015). A person-centered approach to moral judgment. Perspectives on Psychological Science10(1), 72-81. doi: 10.1177/1745691614556679

from Minds for Business – Association for Psychological Science http://bit.ly/2aiwGz6


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