Office v. Open Plan

Offices.  Open Plan.  Always seem to be the bone of contention in the modern work environment.  I know which side of the fence (or should I say ‘door’) which I firmly sit on – even though I am perpetually on the other side (much to my chagrin).  Psyblog has rounded up a bunch of research in this area, presented here: http://www.spring.org.uk/2013/09/6-psych-tips-for-creating-the-ideal-workspace.php#utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+PsychologyBlog+%28PsyBlog%29 and below …


 

The perfect office space: beautiful curves, natural views and greenery.

There you are, sitting in the office, as usual, working away.

Look away from the screen for a moment and what do you see? How tidy is your desk? Is it an open-plan office? Is there a view out of the window? Are there any plants in sight? Did you personally choose the decorations near your desk?

All these factors and more have interesting psychological effects on how people work and how good they feel about it. So here are six tips, based on psychological research, for creating the ideal workspace.

1. Avoid open-plan (if you can)

Open-plan offices are supposed to encourage communication and team-spirit. At least, that’s the theory.

According to a survey which analysed data from 303 US office buildings, there’s some truth to the boost in communication, but no evidence it increases community spirit (Kim & Dear, 2012).

On top of this, the small benefits in communication are massively outweighed by the disadvantages of working in open-plan offices. Most have worked in these and know exactly what they are: noise, distraction and lack of privacy.

Unsurprisingly, people working in private offices are significantly happier with their working environment.

Not that most people have much choice about this either way and I guess many do their best to create their own sense of privacy using headphones, cubicles or hiding under the desk—whatever works.

2. The great messy/tidy desk debate

Does a messy desk help or hinder? Is the untidy desk really a sign of an untidy mind?

Well, research has found that order and disorder in the environment have different psychological consequences.

An experiment (described here) found that messy desks tended to encourage more creativity, while tidy desks encouraged conformity and general good moral behaviour.

So, both messy and untidy desks have their place, depending on the type of outcome you are looking for.

3. Curvy is beautiful

While we can’t use psychology to solve the messy/tidy debate decisively, we can with curvy versus plain old straight.

In a study by Dazkir and Read (2011), participants were shown some stimulated interiors with loads of straight edges and some with loads of curves.

People rated the curvy environments as making them feel more peaceful, calm and relaxed. So, curvy wins.

Just the same effect was found in another experiment which found people more likely to judge curvy spaces in general as more beautiful (Vartanian et al., 2013).

4. Room with a view (or a picture of a view)

Most of us know that a nice walk through nature has a calming effect on the mind. Indeed, there is a study showing that a walk in nature can boost memory by 20%.

But what about bringing a little nature inside the office space?

This has also been tested in a study by Berto (2005), who found that just viewing pictures of natural scenes had a restorative effect on cognitive function.

In fact, the benefits of viewing landscapes likely extend to reducing short-term stress as well as benefiting overall health and well-being (Verlarde & Teit, 2007).

5. Plants

If walks in nature and natural scenes can calm the mind, then surely plants should work as well?

Indeed they do, research by Raaaas et al. (2011) found that after being exposed to an office setting with four indoor plants, people’s attentional capacities were restored in comparison to the control condition, which had no plant-life.

6. Decorate

The lean, clean, efficient office space has been seen as the model environment in which to really get some work done.

But, like the tidy desk enthusiasts, the office minimalists are also taking a kicking in the research.

An experiment by Knight & Haslam (2010) looked at the effects of bare offices as compared with those either decorated by the experimenter or decorated by the people occupying them.

What effects, they wondered, would office decoration have on people’s well-being, their attention to detail, their management of information and so on.

The answer is that decorated offices won out over their bare counterparts. When people were empowered by being allowed to do their own decoration, they produced higher productivity and experienced enhanced well-being.

As one of their participants remarked, echoing, I’m sure, the feelings of many:

“…it’s so nice to come into an office with plants and pictures, it makes a place feel more homely, even a glass box [of an office] like this.”

 

 

 

 

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This is the Future for Healthcare

 

http://www.forbes.com/sites/bruceupbin/2013/02/08/ibms-watson-gets-its-first-piece-of-business-in-healthcare/

IBM‘s Watson, the Jeopardy!-playing supercomputer that scored one for Team Robot Overlord two years ago, just put out its shingle as a doctor or, more specifically, as a combination lung cancer specialist and expert in the arcane branch of health insurance known as utilization management.  Thanks to a business partnership among IBM, Memorial Sloan-Kettering and WellPoint, health care providers will now be able to tap Watson’s expertise in deciding how to treat patients.

Pricing was not disclosed, but hospitals and health care networks who sign up will be able to buy or rent Watson’s advice from the cloud or their own server. Over the past two years, IBM’s researchers have shrunk Watson from the size of a master bedroom to a pizza-box-sized server that can fit in any data center. And they improved its processing speed by 240%. Now what was once was a fun computer-science experiment in natural language processing is becoming a real business for IBM and Wellpoint, which is the exclusive reseller of the technology for now. Initial customers include WestMed Practice Partners and the Maine Center for Cancer Medicine & Blood Disorders.

Even before the Jeopardy! success, IBM began to hatch bigger plans for Watson and there are few areas more in need of supercharged decision-support than health care. Doctors and nurses are drowning in information with new research, genetic data, treatments and procedures popping up daily. They often don’t know what to do, and are guessing as well as they can. WellPoint’s chief medical officer Samuel Nussbaum said at the press event today that health care pros make accurate treatment decisions in lung cancer cases only 50% of the time (a shocker to me). Watson has shown the capability (on the utilization management side) of being accurate in its decisions 90% of the time, but is not near that level yet with cancer diagnoses. Patients, of course, need 100% accuracy, but making the leap from being right half the time to being right 9 out of ten times will be a huge boon for patient care. The best part is the potential for distributing the intelligence anywhere via the cloud, right at the point of care. This could be the most powerful tool we’ve seen to date for improving care and lowering everyone’s costs via standardization and reduced error. Chris Coburn, the Cleveland Clinic’s executive director for innovations, said at the event that he fully expects Watson to be widely deployed wherever the Clinic does business by 2020.

Watson has made huge strides in its medical prowess in two short years. In May 2011 IBM had already trained Watson to have the knowledge of a second-year medical student. In March 2012 IBM struck a deal with Memorial Sloan Kettering to ingest and analyze tens of thousands of the renowned cancer center’s patient records and histories, as well as all the publicly available clinical research it can get its hard drives on. Today Watson has analyzed 605,000 pieces of medical evidence, 2 million pages of text, 25,000 training cases and had the assist of 14,700 clinician hours fine-tuning its decision accuracy. Six “instances” of Watson have already been installed in the last 12 months.

Watson doesn’t tell a doctor what to do, it provides several options with degrees of confidence for each, along with the supporting evidence it used to arrive at the optimal treatment. Doctors can enter on an iPad a new bit of information in plain text, such as “my patient has blood in her phlegm,” and Watson within half a minute will come back with an entirely different drug regimen that suits the individual. IBM Watson’s business chief Manoj Saxena says that 90% of nurses in the field who use Watson now follow its guidance.

WellPoint will be using the system internally for its nurses and clinicians who handle utilization management, the process by which health insurers determine which treatments are fair, appropriate and efficient and, in turn, what it will cover. The company will also make the intelligence available as a Web portal to other providers as its Interactive Care Reviewer. It is targeting 1,600 providers by the end of 2013 and will split the revenue with IBM. Terms were undisclosed.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/bruceupbin/2013/02/08/ibms-watson-gets-its-first-piece-of-business-in-healthcare/

 

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Why Haters Have to Hate

More from PsyBlog – this guy just continues to come up with pearlers!

http://www.spring.org.uk/2013/08/why-haters-have-to-hate.php

 

 

Why Haters Have to Hate

Post image for Why Haters Have to Hate

Are you an instinctive ‘liker’ or an instinctive ‘hater’?

Some people have the talent to find the bad in anything.

Mountains, brie, Greece, electric toothbrushes; you name it, they don’t like it. And they want to tell you exactly why.

A new study published in theJournal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests this might be a newly identified aspect of personality: how much people are predisposed to like or hate stuff, even if they know almost nothing about it (Helper & Albarracin, 2013).

To investigate, the researchers asked people questions about loads of different things that weren’t connected.

They included everything from ‘abortion’, ‘America’, ‘antidepressants’ and ‘architecture’ down to ‘voluntary euthanasia’, ‘wearing clothes that draw attention’ and ‘wine’.

Imagine if you took five of your friends and asked them about subjects as varied as these; surely you’d get really varied responses. Some people like wine and wearing clothes that draw attention, other people dislike those things. Others couldn’t care less either way.

What the researchers found was that there was certainly lots of variation between what people liked and disliked. But, oddly, at a general level, people were split between likers and haters.

In other words, some people tended to like stuff even though they didn’t really know much about it, and some people had the tendency to hate stuff, whatever it was.

The authors of this article argue that this initial stance towards anything and everything is a facet of personality. In the same way that you can be either extroverted or introverted, you can also be a ‘liker’ or a ‘hater’.

So, the answer to why the haters have to hate is that it’s built into them at the level of their personality.

Now, how you might become a like or a hater in the first place, we don’t yet know. Likely, it’s got a lot to do with genetics. Some people are born haters, others born likers.

But there’s also likely a learning component: people probably learn to become haters—hating from an early age, and so forth.

It raises all kinds of fascinating questions: does being a hater run in the family? Can a liker and a hater be in a relationship together? Which professions have the most haters?

I’ll leave you to ponder these and more important questions!

Image credit: Minh Hoang

 

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How to Set Better Goals

More from PsyBlog – this time on setting goals (which is one of those totally critical elements of business, management and consulting): http://www.spring.org.uk/2013/08/how-to-set-better-goals-avoid-four-common-mistakes.php

 

Badly set goals can degrade performance, motivate unethical behaviour and damage organisations.

It’s no accident that goal-setting pervades so many areas of modern life.

There are hundreds of research studies going back decades showing that setting goals can increase people’s performance.

Most have heard the goal-setting mantra that goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-targeted (S.M.A.R.T.); but few recognise the dangers of poor goal-setting and the unintended consequences that can follow.

Here’s how to avoid four common problems with goal-setting, which are highlighted by Ordonez et al. (2009) at the Harvard Business School.

1. Too specific

The problem with setting goals that are too specific is that they can bias people’s behaviour in unintended ways.  For example:

  • If you use goals to effectively tell a university professor that all that’s important is publishing articles, then what is going to happen to her teaching?
  • If you tell call-centre staff that the main thing is how quickly they answer the phone, what’s going to happen to how they deal with the call?

Very specific goals can degrade overall performance by warping the way people view their jobs.

Better goals: keep them somewhat vague. This gives people control and choice over how they do their jobs. When people are given vaguer goals they can take into account more factors: in short it makes them think for themselves. It’s no wonder that having control is strongly linked with job satisfaction.

2. Too many goals

Perhaps the answer, then, is to set loads of goals which cover all aspects of a person’s work? Not necessarily, as that introduces its own problems.

For one thing people tend to concentrate on the easiest goal to the exclusion of the others. For example, in one study participants were given both quality and quantity goals related to a task. When quantity goals were easier to achieve than quality, they focused mostly on quantity.

This study is showing how a well-meaning goal can warp people’s behaviour in unintended directions.

Better goals: limit the total number of goals. Apart from anything else, who can remember 10 or 20 goals they are supposed to be working towards?

3. Short-termism

Why is it so hard to get a cab on a rainy day?

The answer isn’t just that more people are hailing cabs; it’s also that the cab drivers go home earlier because they hit their targets earlier for the day. So Camerer et al., (1997) found in their study of New York cab drivers.

This is a prime example of short-termism: goals can make people believe that when they hit their target, they can take the rest of the day (or month!) off.

This works at an organisational level as well: if an organisation is continually working to meet short-term goals, it can neglect the long-term importance of innovation and evolution.

Better goals: Make sure short-term goals don’t interfere with the long-term vision, otherwise they can be corrosive for the organisation.

4. Too hard

When goals are too hard, they encourage people to do anything in order to meet them; that includes unethical behaviour.

One example of unethical behaviour prompted by poor goals was in the hard disk manufacturer, MiniScribe. Back in 1989, in order to meet financial targets, they began shipping bricks instead of hard drives. The bricks sat unopened for a few weeks in a Singapore warehouse, while Miniscribe successfully invoiced for them. The company soon went into bankruptcy.

Miniscribe’s story is also a brilliant example of short-term thinking. What did they think was going to happen when the bricks were discovered, as they surely would be?

Similarly, research has also shown that when people are set more difficult goals, they are more willing to take risks. In some circumstances this may be acceptable, but often it is not.

Not only that, but goals that are too hard are simply demotivating. How come almost reaching your target feels like failure, even when you’re 99% there?

Better goals: Set genuinely achievable goals rather than so-called ‘stretch’ goals. These will avoid encouraging people to behave unethically.

New rules of goal-setting

All of these problems are further exaggerated by larger the incentives. When there are huge amounts of money at stake, then badly set goals can distort human behaviour even more.

So, use these warnings as ways to set better goals, and be careful of unintended consequences.

Ordonez et al. (2009) conclude by saying:

“Rather than dispensing goal setting as a benign, over-the-counter treatment for students of management, experts need to conceptualize goal setting as a prescription-strength medication that requires careful dosing, consideration of harmful side effects, and close supervision.”

With that warning in mind, here are some new rules of goal-setting

  • Goals should be somewhat abstract.
  • Goals should be set with an eye on the long-term.
  • Goals should be relatively limited in number.
  • Goals should not be too hard to achieve.

(Oh, and unless they’ve ordered them, never ship bricks.)

 

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4 Qualities of Truly Horrible Managers

Another terribly topical article from Psyblog: http://www.spring.org.uk/2013/08/4-qualities-of-truly-horrible-managers.php

 

4 Qualities of Truly Horrible Managers

Fifty per cent of managers are incompetent, so how did that idiot get to be your boss?

Surveys keep telling us that between 65% and 75% of people rate their managers as the worst aspect of their jobs.

Is this just baseless moaning, or are they right?

 

Actually most are right since research into managers shows that around 50% of them are incompetent (DeVries, 1993).

The reasons they can’t do their jobs are pretty simple. When Leslie and Van Velsor (1996) looked at the research across different organisations and different employees, they found these four points summarised the problems with failed managers (research described in Hogan & Kaiser, 2005):

  1. Poor interpersonal skills. Horrible managers look down on you from on high like irascible emperors. They are insensitive, cold and as likely to be nice to you as give their pay-checks to charity.
  2. Can’t get the work done. They repeatedly set overly ambitious targets and then repeatedly fail to meet them. They don’t follow through on their promises and they’re likely to betray your trust.
  3. Can’t build a team. It’s perhaps the most essential skill of being a manager. Team-building requires building trust, assigning roles and goals, promoting good communication and providing leadership. Terrible managers are totally incapable of any of this.
  4. Can’t cope with promotion. Who knows how they got that promotion, but it’s clear the new job is beyond them. As soon as they’re settled in, everything starts to fall apart.

If 50% of managers are that bad, how do they become managers in the first place?

The answer is that horrible managers do have desirable qualities—that’s how they got hired in the first place—but they also have undesirable qualities, which often outweigh them.

Hogan and Hogan (1994) have looked at decades of research on this and they find that most horrible managers have a personality disorder. And the thing about personality disorders is:

Personality disorders are hard to detect

Many horrible managers are narcissists and, sadly, people like narcissists at first. They seem like fun people to be around.

In time, though, we come to notice that narcissists can’t learn from their mistakes and go around with a massive sense of entitlement.

What seemed charming on day one is revealed as arrogance over time. Unfortunately this usually doesn’t become obvious until too late.

 

Failure of the selection process

Managers are often recruited from outside the organisation using interviews.

Both narcissists and psychopaths are great at interviews: making a good impression in these sorts of situations is what they excel at.

Instead, more formal selection tools should be used with information collected about the person’s ability to be a manager from the people who know best: the manager’s subordinates.

In other words: you should vote for your boss.

Can you imagine?

 

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How Rewards Can Backfire and Reduce Motivation — PsyBlog

http://www.spring.org.uk/2009/10/how-rewards-can-backfire-and-reduce-motivation.php

 

How Rewards Can Backfire and Reduce Motivation

no_money

Surely one of the best ways to generate motivation in ourselves and others is by dangling rewards?

Yet psychologists have long known that rewards are overrated. The carrot, of carrot-and-stick fame, is not as effective as we’ve been led to believe. Rewards work under some circumstances but sometimes they backfire. Spectacularly.

Here is a story about preschool children with much to teach all ages about the strange effects that rewards have on our motivation.

It’s child’s play

Psychologists Mark R. Lepper and David Greene from Stanford and the University of Michigan were interested in testing what is known as the ‘overjustification’ hypothesis—about which, more later (Lepper et al., 1973).

Since parents so often use rewards as motivators for children they recruited fifty-one preschoolers aged between 3 and 4. All the children selected for the study were interested in drawing. It was crucial that they already liked drawing because Lepper and Greene wanted to see what effect rewards would have when children were already fond of the activity.

child_drawing

The children were then randomly assigned to one of the following conditions:

  1. Expected reward. In this condition children were told they would get a certificate with a gold seal and ribbon if they took part.
  2. Surprise reward. In this condition children would receive the same reward as above but, crucially, weren’t told about it until after the drawing activity was finished.
  3. No reward. Children in this condition expected no reward, and didn’t receive one.

Each child was invited into a separate room to draw for 6 minutes then afterwards either given their reward or not depending on the condition. Then, over the next few days, the children were watched through one-way mirrors to see how much they would continue drawing of their own accord. The graph below shows the percentage of time they spent drawing by experimental condition:

time_spent_drawing2

As you can see the expected reward had decreased the amount of spontaneous interest the children took in drawing (and there was no statistically significant difference between the no reward and surprise reward group). So, those who had previously liked drawing were less motivated once they expected to be rewarded for the activity. In fact the expected reward reduced the amount of spontaneous drawing the children did by half. Not only this, but judges rated the pictures drawn by the children expecting a reward as less aesthetically pleasing.

Rewards reduce intrinsic motivation

It’s not only children who display this kind of reaction to rewards, though, subsequent studies have shown a similar effect in all sorts of different populations, many of them grown-ups. In one study smokers who were rewarded for their efforts to quit did better at first but after three months fared worse than those given no rewards and no feedback (Curry et al., 1990). Indeed those given rewards even lied more about the amount they were smoking.

Reviewing 128 studies on the effects of rewards Deci et al. (1999, p. 658)concluded that:

“tangible rewards tend to have a substantially negative effect on intrinsic motivation (…) Even when tangible rewards are offered as indicators of good performance, they typically decrease intrinsic motivation for interesting activities.”

Rewards have even been found to make people less creative and worse at problem-solving.

Overjustification

So, what’s going on? The key to understanding these behaviours lies in the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. When we do something for its own sake, because we enjoy it or because it fills some deep-seated desire, we are intrinsically motivated. On the other hand when we do something because we receive some reward, like a certificate or money, this is extrinsic motivation.

bear2

The children were chosen in the first instance because they already liked drawing and they were already intrinsically motivated to draw. It was pleasurable, they were good at it and they got something out of it that fed their souls. Then some of them got a reward for drawing and their motivation changed.

Before they had been drawing because they enjoyed it, but now it seemed as though they were drawing for the reward. What they had been motivated to do intrinsically, they were now being given an external, extrinsic motivation for. This provided too muchjustification for what they were doing and so, paradoxically, afterwards they drew less.

This is the overjustification hypothesis for which Lepper and Greene were searching and although it seems like backwards thinking, it’s typical of the way the mind sometimes works. We don’t just work ‘forwards’ from our attitudes and preferences to our actions, we also work ‘backwards’, working out what our attitudes and preferences must be based on our current situation, feelings or actions (see also: cognitive dissonance).

When money makes play into work

Not only this but rewards are dangerous for another reason: because they remind us of obligations, of being made to do things we don’t want to do. Children are given rewards for eating all their food, doing their homework or tidying their bedrooms. So rewards become associated with painful activities that we don’t want to do. The same goes for grown-ups: money becomes associated with work and work can be dull, tedious and painful. So when we get paid for something we automatically assume that the task is dull, tedious and painful—even when it isn’t.

This is why play can become work when we get paid. The person who previously enjoyed painting pictures, weaving baskets, playing the cello or even writing blog posts, suddenly finds the task tedious once money has become involved.

Yes, sometimes rewards do work, especially if people really don’t want to do something. But when tasks are inherently interesting to us rewards can damage our motivation by undermining our natural talent for self-regulation.

 

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The New Science of ‘The Meeting’ — PsyBlog

http://www.spring.org.uk/2013/07/the-new-science-of-the-meeting.php

 

The subtle signals that—thank the heavens—decisions are being made and how long the wrap-up will last.

Until now people have been gathering around tables and whiteboards without properly understanding what is going on in ‘The Meeting’.

Perhaps that’s why so many of them feel like a complete waste of time. As ‘The Meeting’ stretches out, participants start to feel lost, adrift, confused and unsure of the point.

But now, thanks to an analysis of 95 meetings by researchers at MIT, we understand this strange beast a little better (Kim & Rudin, 2013).

‘The Meeting’, it seems, sends out little clues about what stage it’s at through the language of those at ‘The Meeting’.

Although it sounds incredible, by close textual analysis of the words being used, you can tell when a decision is being made.

Usually, of course, decisions are avoided at all costs in ‘The Meeting’ in case anyone has to actually do anything as a result of ‘The Meeting’.

But if you listen carefully enough, you can hear the almost imperceptible signal that agreement is being reached. That signal, according to the MIT researchers, is when people start asking each other for specific information:

“As it turns out, the important parts of the meeting are characterized mostly by information and information request dialogue acts, and very few offers, rejections, or acceptances. We hypothesize that at the important parts of the meeting, when the decisions have been narrowed down and few choices remain, the meeting participants would like to ensure that they have all the relevant information necessary to make the decision, and that the outcome will fit within all of their constraints.”

The question is, then, how can you persuade other people to reach one of these mythical ‘decisions’ which we hear so much about, yet which are so elusive in ‘The Meeting’?

The researchers argue that top of the potential list comes the word ‘yeah’. Apparently when people start their utterances with ‘yeah’, this is a particularly good signal that ‘The Meeting’ is creeping ever-so-slowly towards this so-called ‘decision’.

OK, it’s a miracle and ‘the meeting’ has made its ‘decision’, now, how long ’till I can get out of here? Not so fast, now we’ve got the wrap-up.

The MIT researchers found that how long the wrap-up lasts depends on how long it’s taken to reach a decision. Once ‘The Meeting’ was over 14 minutes, the longer it was, the shorter the wrap-up. After the decision was made, people in ‘The Meeting’, if it was 14 minutes long, took 18 further minutes to wrap-up.

But, if ‘The Meeting’ went to 35 minutes, the wrap-up normally only lasted about 10 minutes.

Over to you…

Why not conduct your own experiments in meeting science? All you need is a boring meeting to go to and a keen eye for details:

  • How long until people start asking each other for detailed information? (Here comes the decision.)
  • How long until people keep starting their sentences with ‘yeah’? (This is it, we’re making a decision now.)
  • How long does the wrap-up take as a proportion of total meeting length? (And then bliss, sweet freedom, ‘the meeting’ is over.)

Please send your results to MIT, not me.

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Psychology of Negotiation — PsyBlog

http://www.spring.org.uk/2007/10/how-to-avoid-bad-bargain-dont-threaten.php

 

An award-winning social psychology experiment reveals why we often fail to bargain effectively with each other.

Bargaining is one of those activities we often engage in without quite realising it. It doesn’t just happen in the boardroom, or when we ask our boss for a raise or down at the market, it happens every time we want to reach an agreement with someone. This agreement could be as simple as choosing a restaurant with a friend, or deciding which TV channel to watch. At the other end of the scale, bargaining can affect the fate of nations.

Big-scale or small-scale, bargaining is a central part of our lives. Understanding the psychological processes involved in bargaining can provide us with huge benefits in our everyday lives. In a classic, award-winning series of studies, Morgan Deutsch and Robert Krauss investigated two central factors in bargaining: how we communicate with each other and how we use threats (Deutsch & Krauss, 1962).

To do this, they used a game which forces two people to bargain with each other. Although Deutsch and Krauss used a series of different conditions – nine in fact – once you understand the basic game, all the conditions are only slight variations.

So, imagine you were a clerical worker at the Bell Telephone Laboratories in the late 1950s and you’ve been asked to take part in a psychology study. Every psychology study has a story, and this one revolves around two trucking companies…

Experiment 1: Keep on trucking

Before the experiment proper starts, the researcher explains that you’ll be playing a game against another participant. In the game you will run a trucking company. The object of the game is the same as a real trucking company: to make as much money as possible.

Like the real-life trucking company you have to deliver as many of your goods as possible to their destination in the shortest possible time. But in this game you only have one starting point, one destination and one competitor. It looks like a pretty simple game.

Here’s the catch.

The road map your one truck has to travel across presents you with a dilemma. You are the ‘Acme’ trucking company and your fellow participant is the ‘Bolt’ trucking company, although both of you have an identical problem. Have a look below.

 

Cycling
[Deutsch & Krauss, 1962, p. 55]

As you’ll see there are two possible routes you can take from the start to your destination: the short and the long. Remember, time is money, so the longer it takes you to get to your destination, the less profit you make, which is the aim of the game. Unfortunately the short route has a major shortcoming: it is one-way. Only one of you can travel down it at a time towards your destination.

It seems you’ll be forced to work out some agreement with your unknown rival to share this one-way route so that you can both make money. How you’ll do this is another mystery, though, as there is going to be no communication between the two of you during the experiment. You are to be seated in a cubicle from where you’ll only be able to see the control box for your ‘truck’ and the experimenter.

Threatening gates

You are to be given one method of communication with your rival, albeit indirect communication. Each of you controls a gate at your own end of the one-way road. The gate, though, can only be closed when your truck is on the main route. This will be your threat. It is reinforced by the experimenter that you are out to make as much money as you can for yourself – the other person’s profit is not a concern.

Once the experimenter sets you off, it soon becomes clear you’re not going to make much money at all. In the first of 20 trials, both you and your rival shut your gates, forcing both trucks onto the alternative route. This is 50% longer and means you make a loss on the trip as a whole. In the second trial your trucks meet head-on travelling up the one-way road. You both have to reverse, costing you time and money.

The rest of the trials aren’t much better. Occasionally you make a profit on a trip but more often than not it’s a bust. You spend more time on the long route or reversing than you do chugging happily along the main route making money.

At the end of the experiment, the researcher announces how much profit you made. None. In fact you made a crippling loss. Perhaps trucking companies aren’t so easy to run.

Comparing threats

You find out later that you were in one of three experimental conditions. The only differences in the other two conditions were that in one there were no gates at either end of the one-way road. In the other there was only one active gate controlled by one player.

Before I tell you the results of the other two conditions, try to guess. One condition, which you’ve taken part in, contained bilateral threat – you could both threaten each other. One condition had unilateral threat – only one could threaten the other. And the final condition had no threat at all. What was the order of profit?

In fact it turns out that your condition, of bilateral threat, made the least profit when both participant’s scores were added up. The next most profitable was the unilateral threat condition, while the most profitable overall was the no-threat condition.

Here’s the first rather curious result. While the person who had the threat – control of the gate – in the unilateral condition did better than the person who didn’t, they were still better off, individually and collectively, than if they both had threats. What this experiment is showing is that the availability of threats leads to worse outcomes to the extent that unilateral threat is preferable to bilateral threat to both parties.

Experiment 2: Lines of communication

But surely a little communication goes a long way? You weren’t allowed to talk to the other participant in this experiment, so your trucks had to do the talking for you. Bargaining is all about reaching a compromise through negotiation – surely this should help?

To test the effect of communication Deutsch and Krauss (1962) set up a second experiment which was identical in all respects to the first except participants were given headphones to talk to each other.

Here’s the next curious result: allowing the two participants to communicate with each other made no significant difference to the amount of money each trucking company made. In fact the experimenters found no relationship between words spoken and money made. In other words those who communicated more did not manage to reach a better understanding with each other.

Like the experimenters themselves, I find this result surprising. Surely allowing people to communicate let’s them work out a way for them both to make money? And yet this isn’t what happened in the experiment at all. Instead it seems that people’s competitive orientation was stronger than their motivation to communicate. On the other hand, perhaps something specific to the situation in this experiment is stopping people talking?

Participants in the second study reported that it was difficult to start talking to the other person, who was effectively a stranger. As a result they were considerably less talkative than normal. Could it be that it was this situational constraint that meant little talking, and therefore little bargaining was going on?

Experiment 3: Forced communication

Deutsch and Krauss decided to test the effect of forced communication in their third experiment. Again the procedure is the same as last time but now participants are instructed that on each of the 20 trials they have to say something. If they don’t talk on one of the trials they are gently reminded by the experimenter to do so. They are told they can talk about whatever they like, as long as they say something.

The results finally showed some success for communication. Performance in the one-gate (unilateral threat) condition came close to that achieved in the ‘no-threat’ condition (remember the no-threat condition has the best outcomes). Forced communication didn’t have much effect on the ‘no-threat’ condition when compared with no communication, and neither did it improve the bilateral threat condition much. It still seems that people are so competitive when they both have threats it’s very difficult to avoid both sides losing out.

Threat causes resentment

The most surprising finding of this study is how badly people do under conditions of bilateral threat. In this experiment not even forcing communication can overcome people’s competitive streaks. Deutsch and Krauss provide a fascinating explanation for this.

Imagine your neighbour asks you to water their plants while they’re on holiday Socially, it looks good for you if you agree to do it. On the other hand if they ask you to water their plants otherwise they’ll set their TV on full blast while they’re on holiday, it immediately gets your hackles up. Suddenly you resent them. Giving in when there is no threat is seen by other people as pro-social. Duress, however, seems to make people dig in their heels.

Applying the brakes

Before drawing some general conclusions from these studies, we should acknowledge the particular circumstances of this research. Deutsch and Krauss’s experiment covers a situation in which bargaining is carried out under time pressure. Recall that the longer participants take to negotiate, the less money they make. In real life, time isn’t always of the essence.

The present game also has a relatively simple solution: participants make the most profit if they share the one-way road. In reality, solutions are rarely that clear-cut. Finally, our participants were not professional negotiators, they were clerical and supervisory workers without special training.

Real-life implications

Despite these problems the trucking game has the advantage of being what game theorists call a non-zero-sum game. In other words if you win, it doesn’t automatically mean the other person loses. When you total the final results, as you sometimes can in a financial sense, they don’t add to zero. In real life many of the situations in which we find ourselves are of this nature. Cooperation can open the way to more profit, in financial or other form, for both parties.

As a result the trucking game has clear implications for real life:

  • Cooperative relationships are likely to be much more beneficial overall than competitive relationships. Before you go ‘duh!’, remember that increasing proportions of the world’s societies are capitalist. Deutsch and Krauss’s experiment clearly shows the friction caused by competitive relationships, such as those encouraged by capitalism. I’m not saying capitalism is bad, I’m just saying competition isn’t always good. This simple fact is often forgotten.
  • Just because people can communicate, doesn’t mean they will – even if it is to their advantage.
  • Forcing parties to communicate, even if they already have the means to communicate, encourages mutually beneficial outcomes.
  • In competitive relationships, communication should be aimed at increasing cooperation. Other methods will probably create more heat than light.
  • Threats are dangerous, not only to other’s interests, but also to our own.

Remember all these the next time you are bargaining with your partner over a night out, about to shout a threat at a motorist blocking your path on a one-way road, or even involved in high-level political negotiations between warring factions with nuclear capabilities. It could save you, and the other side, a lot of trouble.

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Social Identity Theory — PsyBlog

http://www.spring.org.uk/2007/11/why-groups-and-prejudices-form-so.php

 

This classic social psychology experiment shows how little excuse people need to form into groups and start discriminating against others.

People’s behaviour in groups is fascinating and frequently disturbing. As soon as humans are bunched together in groups we start to do odd things: copy other members of our group, favour members of own group over others, look for a leader to worship and fight other groups. Just glance at Sherif’s Robbers Cave experiment for proof of how easy it is to provoke war between groups.

But think about the types of groups you belong to, and you’ll realise they differ dramatically. Some groups are more like soldiers in the same unit or friends who have known each other from childhood. Long-standing, tight-knit, protecting each other. Perhaps it’s not surprising people in these groups radically change their behaviour, preferring members of their own group over others in many ways.

Other groups, though, are much looser. Supporters of a large sports club, for example, or work colleagues only together on a project for a few months or even a group of people in an art gallery appreciating a painting.

It seems impossible that people stood together for only 30 seconds to look at a painting can be said to form a group in any measurable way. Surely it’s too fleeting, too ephemeral? This is exactly the type of question social psychologist Henry Tajfel and colleagues set out to answer (Tajfel et al., 1971).

They believed it was possible for a group, along with its attendant prejudices, to form at the drop of a hat. In fact they thought a group could form even when there was no face-to-face contact between members, none of the people knew each other and their ‘group’ behaviour had no practical consequences. In other words they had absolutely nothing to gain (or lose) from this barely existent group.

Forming a ‘minimal group’

Tajfel and colleagues came up with a neat solution for testing their idea. Participants, who were 14 and 15 year-old boys, were brought into the lab and shown slides of paintings by Klee and Kandinsky. They were told their preferences for the paintings would determine which of two groups they would join.

Of course, this was a lie designed to set up the idea of ‘us’ and ‘them’ in their minds. The experimenters wanted two groups of boys with not the faintest idea who was also in their own group or what the grouping meant or what they had to lose or gain.

After this setup, the boys were taken to a cubicle, one at a time. Each was then asked to distribute virtual money to the other members of both groups. The only information they had about who they were giving it to was a code number for each boy and that boy’s group membership.

There were a series of rules for the distribution of the money that were designed to tease out who the boys favoured: their own group or the other group. The rules were changed slightly in different trials so that it was possible to test a number of theories. Did the boys distribute the money:

  • Fairly?
  • To obtain maximum joint profit?
  • For maximum ingroup (own group) profit?
  • For maximum difference between groups?
  • Using favouritism? This involves a combination of maximum ingroup profit and maximum difference?

Startling findings

From the way the virtual money was distributed, the boys did indeed demonstrate the classic behavioural markers of group membership: they favoured their own group over the other. And this pattern developed consistently over many, many trials and has subsequently been replicated in other experiments in which groups were, if you can believe it, even more minimal.

When I first came across this experiment, my first reaction was to find it startling. Remember, the boys had no idea who was in their group ‘with them’ or who was in the other group. But, the most puzzling aspect of this experiment is that the boys had nothing whatsoever to gain from favouring their own group – there didn’t seem to be anything riding on their decisions.

Out in the real world there’s a good reason to favour your own group – normally it is also advantageous to yourself. You protect yourself by protecting others like you.

Social identity theory

What Tajfel argued, though, was that there was something riding on the decisions the boys made, but it was something very subtle, yet incredibly profound.

Tajfel argued that people build their own identities from their group memberships. For example, think of each of the groups you belong to: say at work, or within your family. Part of who you are is probably defined by these groups. Putting it the other way around: the nature of your group memberships define your identity.

As our group membership forms our identity, it is only natural for us to want to be part of groups that are both high status and have a positive image. Crucially though, high status groups only have that high status when compared to other groups. In other words: knowing your group is superior requires having a worse group to look down upon.

Seen in the light of social identity theory, then, the boys in the experiment do have a reason to be selfish about the allocation of the virtual cash. It is all about boosting their own identities through making their own group look better.

Criticisms

No experiment can, or should, be automatically taken at face value. Questions have to be asked about whether it is really telling us what the authors claim. There are two criticisms often levelled at this experiment and its interpretation:

  1. The participant’s behaviour can be explained by simple economic self-interest. But: in another experiment only symbols were used rather than ‘virtual’ money and the results were the same.
  2. The participants were responding to what they thought the experimenters wanted (psychologists call this ‘demand characteristics’). But: Tajfel argues it is unclear to the participants what the experimenters wanted. Recall that the rules for distributing money frequently changed. Also, the participants were encouraged to think that choosing whose paintings they liked (the ‘first’ experiment) was unrelated to the allocation of virtual money (the ‘second’ experiment).

Despite these criticisms, Tajfel and colleagues’ findings have stood the test of time. The experiment, or something like it, has been repeated many times with different variations producing much the same results.

Centrality of group membership

Social identity theory states that our identities are formed through the groups to which we belong. As a result we are motivated to improve the image and status of our own group in comparison with others.

Tajfel and colleagues’ experiment shows that group membership is so important to us that we join the most ephemeral of groups with only the slightest prompting. We will then go out of our way to make our own group look better compared to others.

The simple fact of how important group membership is to us, and how easily we join groups, often without realising it, is both a subtle and profound observation about human nature.

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Conformity — PsyBlog

http://www.spring.org.uk/2007/11/i-cant-believe-my-eyes-conforming-to.php

 

This study shows that many of us will deny our own senses just to conform with others.

We all know that humans are natural born conformers – we copy each other’s dress sense, ways of talking and attitudes, often without a second thought. But exactly how far does this conformity go? Do you think it is possible you would deny unambiguous information from your own senses just to conform with other people?

Have a look at the figure below. Compare the line on the left with the three lines on the right: A, B & C. Which of these three lines is the same length as the lonesome line on the left?

Asch Lines

It’s obviously C. And yet in a classic psychology experiment conducted in the 1950s, 76% of people denied their own senses at least once, choosing either A or B. What kind of strong-arm psychological pressure tactics made them do this?

The fascinating thing about this experiment was that its creator, renowned psychologist Solomon Asch, set out to prove the exact opposite. A previous experiment by Muzafer Sherif (see his well-known Robbers Cave experiment) had found that when people were faced with making a judgement on an ambiguous test, they used other people’s judgements as a reference point.

This makes perfect sense. If I’m not sure about something, I’ll check with someone else. But this is only when I’m not sure. The situation is quite different when I have unambiguous information, such as when I can clearly see the answer myself. Other people’s judgement should then have no effect – or at least that’s what Asch thought.

The experiment

To test his theory he brought male undergraduates, one at a time, into a room with eight other people who were passed off as fellow participants (Asch, 1951). They were then shown three lines with another for comparison, similar to the figure above. Participants were asked to call out which line – A, B or C – was the same length as the reference line. This procedure was repeated 12 times with participants viewing variations of the above figure.

What the participants didn’t realise was that all the other people sat around the table were in on the game. They were all confederates who had been told by the experimenter to give the wrong answer. On half of the trials they called out the line that was too short, and on the other half the line that was too long.

The real experimental participant, who knew nothing of this, was actually the sixth to call out their answer after five other confederates of the experimenter had given the wrong answer.

Surprising findings

The results were fascinating, and not at all what Asch had been expecting:

  • 50% of people gave the same wrong answer as the others on more than half of the trials.
  • Only 25% of participants refused to be swayed by the majority’s blatantly false judgement on all of the 12 trials.
  • 5% always conformed with the majority incorrect opinion (we all know people like that, right?!)
  • Over all the trials the average conformity rate was 33%.

Intrigued as to why participants had gone along with the majority, Asch interviewed them after the experiment. Their answers are probably very familiar to all of us:

  • All felt anxious, feared disapproval from others and became self-conscious.
  • Most explained they saw the lines differently to the group but then felt the group was correct.
  • Some said they went along with the group to avoid standing out, although they knew the group was wrong.
  • A small number of people actually said they saw the lines in the same way as the group.

The findings of this study were so startling they inspired many psychologists to investigate further. Here are a few of their findings:

  • Asch himself found that if the participant only had to write down their answer (while others called theirs out) conformity was reduced to 12.5%.
  • Deutsch and Gerard (1955) still found conformity rates of 23% even in conditions of high anonymity and high certainty about the answer.
  • Those who are ‘conformers’ typically have high levels of anxiety, low status, high need for approval and often authoritarian personalities.
  • Cultural differences are important in conformity. People from cultures which view conformity more favourably – typically Eastern societies – are more likely to conform.

A mixed blessing

The variations on the original theme go on and on, examining many possible experimental permutations, but the basic finding still remains solid. While there’s no surprise that we copy each other, it’s amazing that some people will conform despite the evidence from their own eyes. Imagine how much easier it is to encourage conformity when ambiguity levels are much higher, as they often are in everyday life.

Conformity itself is something of a mixed blessing. In many situations we need conformity. In fact, many aspects of our social lives would be much harder if we didn’t conform to a certain extent – whether it’s to legal rules or just to queuing in the post office.

The dangers of conformity are only too well-known, just take a look at the implications of Milgram’s obedience experiments for a glimpse at what humans will do in the name of conformity. Sometimes it really is better if we think for ourselves rather than relying on what others say and do.

How does conformity affect us all?

It certainly bears considering how our own lives would be different if, one day, we decided not to conform, or even to suddenly start conforming. Would things get better or worse for you? Many people find their inability to conform is a real problem in their lives while others find it more difficult to break away and do their own thing.

Image credit: Barabeke

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