Monday, April 9, 2007

College Dean’s Prize: Improvements for the Marshall School

According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, it necessary for campuses to respond to changes in the technology-driven growth of information and communication, globalization, competition, and calls for accountability. The University of Southern California (USC) has recognized this need, one response to which is the College Dean’s Prize, whereby undergraduates submit proposals with their suggestions on how to enhance both academic life and the educational experience as a whole. Students are encouraged to “think seriously about learning, be creative and daring, and [inspirational],” and to focus on important issues, being practical, and having a wide impact. This prize presents an opportunity to forge a bond with USC's role and mission, which is a commitment to role and mission, “the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.” Furthermore, proposals could be cognizant of the university’s strategic plan strategic plan to meet societal needs, promote learner-centered education, and increase collaboration between disciplines and schools within USC. As the school year moves to a close, this week’s post will, therefore, focus on a proposal for improvements within my campus unit, the Marshall School of Business (pictured above).

Marshall is well known for its strong alumni network, focus on globalization, and successful graduates, as it promises future students that a “Marshall degree admits you to a global network of more than 60,000 alumni working in 44 countries, and more than 200,000 USC graduates in all 50 states and every region of the world.” Nevertheless, the business school would do well to improve its realization of USC’s core values of caring and respect for one another as individuals and ethical conduct. The university is rightly proud to “strive constantly for excellence in teaching knowledge and skills to our students, while at the same time helping [students] to acquire wisdom and insight, love of truth and beauty, moral discernment, understanding of self, and respect and appreciation for others.” However, many of these basic ideals are not implemented in the business school. Students consistently complain about the lack of ethics courses, which are not part of the required curriculum—also, ethics are not emphasized within most business classes. This is a large oversight, especially considering the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the “legislation enacted in response to the high-profile Enron and WorldCom financial scandals to protect shareholders and the general public from accounting errors and fraudulent practices in the enterprise,” and questionable actions taken by CEOs such as Patricia Dunn (pictured at the right).

Under the umbrella of ethical issues are also the business curve and classroom methods, both of which encourage an individualism that is inconsistent with the university's emphasis on collaboration. In order to remain a prominent business school Marshall requires its entire faculty to follow a steep curve in their classes. As a result, students who actually earned high percentage grades will see their score dropped to reduce the number of A’s within a course. While this makes the Marshall Business School look more difficult and impressive when compared to its competitors (USC is currently ranked at number twenty-one, compared to Wharton at number one, according to BusinessWeek, pictured) in reality such a stringent curve frustrates students, fosters competition among peers, and makes it increasingly difficult for undergraduates to receive appropriate grades. These results are a departure from USC’s strategic plan to “focus on the educational needs of the student[s] rather than the structure and needs of the teaching institution.” In relation to the curve, the business program needs to expand on its methods of tutelage. Extensive lecturing and multiple-choice tests will hardly prepare undergraduates to enter a field that is rapidly changing and collaborative, as organizations are moving towards more flexible, team-based structures. Business students need to supplement the acquisition of facts and terms with the practical application of working together, solving problems, and behaving professionally. Although many Marshall courses incorporate group projects and activities, these should be the focus of class and not simply an addendum to the lecture material.

Solutions to Marshall’s ethical issues such as the lack of ethics courses, the difficult grading curve, and problems with practical classroom learning are well within its ability to change. With such a rich cadre of available faculty, USC could integrate professors from other disciplines that study ethical behavior into the business school. The Philosophy Department stresses ethics in its courses, and it would be possible for philosophy faculty either to collaborate with business professors to create business ethics classes, or teach the classes themselves. However, the simplest approach to integrating ethical studies into the business curriculum is to require every professor to emphasize them with their students. For example, accounting faculty could outline both legal and ethical guidelines for students, and discuss past occurrences of accounting fraud. Likewise, eliminating the grading curve will foster academic integrity and ethical behavior in students, who are often tempted by the competition to cheat on exams. Furthermore, eradicating the curve will reduce rivalry and encourage undergraduates to collaborate more with each other throughout their learning experiences. While USC might be wary that such action would decrease its ability to compete with other strong business programs, there are many additional methods that can be utilized to increase status, besides a difficult curve. This falls in neatly with the final issue—Marshall needs to restructure classroom learning to make its teachings more applicable in the business world. With courses more challenging, collaborative, and practical, USC could produce even more successful graduates and attract more students.

Other successful business schools currently focus on some of these methods. Harvard Business School trains future leaders through its Case Method program, which “redefines the traditional educational dynamic,” and encourages students not to “simply [absorb] facts and theories, but also” to practice “the skills of leadership and teamwork in the face of real problems.” Liberated from the lecture format, students are guided by faculty in making authentic business decisions with peers that will directly apply to their future real-world experience. The well-respected Wharton Business School, at the University of Pennsylvania, also utilizes hands-on practice of relevant business skills, through a program animated by the conviction that “teamwork is the core experience through which all students begin to define themselves as leaders.” For example, its “innovative and interactive” introductory management course consists of a project in which ten undergraduates create and implement a community service project. Throughout the entire process, developing friendships and positive business relationships is emphasized. Unlike Marshall, Wharton does not emphasize competitive grading in order to gain status—according to a student-run blog, “Grade Nondisclosure (GND) is a student initiative…we have decided we won't be disclosing our grades.” Out of respect for its students, Wharton has become the only business school not to publish grades.

Overall, my training and the training of those following me could be more robust. By implementing the above changes in the Marshall School of Business, USC will foster growth, success, and just behavior in future business leaders nationally. Increased education about ethics will prepare students to make morally rich decisions, and restructuring classroom learning and abolishing the grading curve will allow them to practice ethical behavior at college. As a consequence, it is likely that ethics will be more clearly defined and followed, and professionals will be encouraged to be more collaborative and honest. USC has stated in its role and mission that “in our surrounding neighborhoods and around the globe, USC provides public leadership and public service in such diverse fields as health care, economic development, social welfare, scientific research, public policy and the arts.” The development of ethical leaders will be a strong addition to USC’s current contributions to the world.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Honorary Degree: Lewis R. Goldberg

In anticipation of college commencements that will soon occur throughout the United States, this week’s post focuses on identifying an appropriate candidate for an honorary degree award at my home institution, the University of Southern California (USC). During each annual graduation ceremony, USC awards at least one nominee with an honorary degree, and this recipient delivers the commencement speech to the graduating class (pictured to the right). One purpose of such an accolade, according to the criteria on this campus, is to “honor individuals who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements in scholarship… but who may not be widely known by the general public.” Author and former president of the University of Iowa and Dartmouth College, James Freedman, pictured to the left, notes the importance of selecting the right recipient for this recognition, which is bestowed by numerous American universities, for when granting honorary degrees, he states: “a university makes an explicit statement to its students and the world about the qualities of character and attainment it admires most.”

With Freedman’s admonition in mind, the doctoral degree that I am proposing for this year’s USC commencement speaker is for distinction in science, more specifically psychology. I believe that the most deserving person is Lewis R. Goldberg, pictured to the right. Through his research, Goldberg has exemplified the ideal qualities of scholarliness and ambition that are inscribed on Tommy Trojan, USC’s beloved mascot (pictured below). Currently writing scientific journal articles at the Oregon Research Institute, he has been a professor at numerous universities, such as University of California at Berkeley. Over the course of his career, Goldberg has received various honors for his contributions to psychology (for example, the Block Award for Outstanding Scientific Contributions) and was involved in leadership positions in his field, such as his recent presidential position in the Association for Research in Personality, a field where he has established himself at the forefront. Goldberg’s most important contribution has been his findings on the five main personality dimensions, first discussed in his 1981 article entitled “Language and individual differences: The search for universals in personality lexicons,” in addition to more recent work, such as his co-authored essay “The international personality item pool and the future of public-domain personality measures.” Goldberg is one of the major proponents for the Big Five Theory of personality, as opposed to the Five-Factor Model, and argues that the basic personality characteristics are urgency, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and intellect. In "An Alternative ‘Description of Personality’: The Big-Five Factor Structure," Goldberg describes some of his findings on personality, concluding that "trait adjectives" such as agreeableness or conscientiousness "can be viewed as blends of five major features," the basic personality characteristics "that relate in a gross way to Power, Love, Work, Affect, and Intellect."

Goldberg’s research is controversial in the eyes of supporters of an opposing theory for personality, the Five-Factor Model. Researchers such as Paunonen and Jackson have “argued that [Goldberg’s] study used too loose a criterion for inclusion in the Big Five,” meaning that results were not actually statistically significant, despite the researchers claims that the findings did in fact support the hypothesis. Paunonen and Jackson are essentially asserting that Goldberg set up his experiment so that any minimal results would seemingly maintain his argument. They might claim that he is not the proper recipient for the honorary degree because, according to them, his research is not the most accurate in his specific field. This has implications, for the expert James Freedman would not support a candidate, nor would USC, who was not respected for an honorary degree, since he sees this award as “ a practice rich in opportunity—but… also ripe for abuse.” Additionally, those opposed to personality testing might not support the results of Goldberg’s findings, and therefore be in opposition to his nomination. For example, many believe that personality testing can only capture a portion of a one’s identity, and is not precise enough.

However, Goldberg’s qualifications do not end with psychology, and given my emphasis on the intersection of psychology and business, Goldberg becomes even more compelling as a prospective honorand. His criticisms notwithstanding, in my opinion Goldberg’s findings are not only legitimate and important to the field of psychology, which is based on the study of individuals, but his notions of personality traits have been applied in the business world as well. Personality testing during the interview process, in addition to many other areas in the work place, has become a widespread and important resource for numerous employers. Because the time and monetary costs of turnover and employee dissatisfaction are high for businesses, with some companies reporting “costs at more than $30,000 for each lost worker,” personality assessment has become a valuable tool in combating turnover and dissatisfaction before they can begin. Goldberg’s Big Five theory is utilized by businesses in a specific test, called the International Personality Item Pool (IPIP). Such achievements make Goldberg qualified for the honorary degree, which may be awarded to those who are "highly regarded for achievements in their respective fields of endeavor."

One of the most important aspects of the honorary degree is the commencement address given by the honoree. In his commencement address, Goldberg would be able to integrate information about how this research was utilized by multiple fields. Goldberg might speak to the audience about his experiences with persevering during studies and research, in addition to handling criticism in a professional manner—this knowledge will encourage graduates that are struggling professionally after college to behave ethically and have a positive attitude about the future. Additionally, Goldberg could describe the satisfaction he has derived from contributing to the psychological and business community, and from working with the Oregon Research Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “studying human behavior and developing programs to improve the health and well being of individuals, families and communities.” One hopes that this would motivate students to be involved in philanthropic activities and take pride in their achievements. Lastly, he can integrate personality testing into his speech by explaining how each individual’s unique personality will be key in their future success, whatever field they plan to pursue. In sum, when candidates for USC’s honorary degree in my field are held up to the requirements, Lewis Goldberg will stand out for being one who, as Freedman states, has arrived at “distinguished and sublime achievement.”

Monday, March 19, 2007

We Are Responsible for Our Own Happiness: This I Believe

In this week’s post, I have decided to express a personal conviction that has driven my desire to pursue a career in psychology and business. The overarching theme in my blog has been to show the link between these two fields, and this post further expands that ideology by showing how my core belief is integrated into both psychology and business. I have been inspired by the This I Believe national media project, which encourages personal expression through writing about individual core beliefs. We can think of a core belief as foundational and central to an individual’s life outlook and personality. The core conviction this post focuses on influences not only my outlook on life but the goals and career aspirations I have developed. Specifically, I strive to pursue my professional and personal goals to the best of my ability and take advantage of the opportunities provided for me. I believe that everyone is responsible for his or her own happiness, which is defined by as the “state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.” I will expand on this concept by describing happiness as a general satisfaction with one’s achievements.

I began building upon this philosophy a few years ago, in high school. Although I am not a very religious person, I went to a Benedictine school and took a theology class every year. In my junior year, during my sixth religions course, a beloved and radical teacher discussed basic philosophical ideas with us. Although his ideas were more complicated than this, the basic concept was that people are all given choices, and each decision helps to determine one’s own fate. For example, I once heard a young woman speak about her intense battle with cancer as a small child. Although she was in the hospital for years, she does not spend her life worrying or complaining about the past⎯instead, she has chosen to give inspirational speeches, be grateful for the help that St. Jude hospital (a picture from their website is shown below) gave her, and be excited about starting college in the fall. Of course it is reasonable to mourn or be emotional after a traumatic event, but at some point we need to move on.

This responsibility comes with multiple possibilities. In the article entitled 8 Ways to Happiness, from, they discuss ideas about how responsibility for emotions, emotional responses, beliefs, and actions can lead to greater happiness, stating that “you have control.” I achieve this by attempting to “look on the bright side” of every situation. Although I worked assiduously in high school, for instance, I was accepted to college as a late admit, meaning that I would have to come halfway through my freshman year. While I was upset that I had to miss those influential and important first few months, I hoped that it had happened for a reason and I would benefit in hidden ways. Initially, I could see that getting into my first-choice school was a great accomplishment and I should be proud and happy for the opportunity. However, it was not until later that I realized the true benefit of starting school belatedly. During that first semester, before I began school, I lived nearby with my grandparents and took extra classes and got a job to stay on schedule. Normally, I only saw my grandparents a few times every year. After my grandfather passed away unexpectedly, a few months later, it was apparent how special my few months living with him were.

Another possibility, in addition to finding the positive components to negative situations, is to do what is in one’s power to work towards happiness. This ability translates into the business world. For example, Reese Witherspoon, a famous and respected actress, recently underwent a difficult public divorce. Instead of hiding from public view and letting it be detrimental to her career, she has generated positive media responses by coming to events looking happy and refreshed. In the March edition of Harper's Bazaar, pictured above, she states: “I look forward to my work. I love my children…I'm very lucky. I have a really great life." Her bold actions and positive outlook will benefit her professionally and personally, as members of the film industry will not doubt her ability, commitment, and professionalism, and she has not allowed herself to be overcome by a challenging personal experience.

How does my belief relate to the field of psychology? I believe it is one of the main principles governing current psychological therapy and practice. Studies in psychology have literally focused on happiness, as psychologist Dr. Seligman’s “research has demonstrated that it is possible to… feel more satisfied, to be more engaged with life, find more meaning, have higher hopes, and… laugh and smile more, regardless of one’s circumstances.” Additionally, therapy that has been empirically supported as successful at helping individuals, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, teaches individuals to change their behavior. Unlike antiquated Freudian practice, in which “the theory is that, with relaxation, the unconscious conflicts will inevitably drift to the fore,” current psychology expands beyond the stereotypical therapist quietly listening to constant complaints. Additionally, it no longer focuses on blame⎯what good will it do a patient to learn that their mother or father is the source of all of their adult problems? Psychologists know that each individual must be responsible for changing their situation, no matter whose fault it is, in order to live a happy and satisfying life. Furthermore, business professionals must generate positive results and publicity in the face of challenging situations. Everyone is responsible for his or her personal happiness⎯this I believe.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Subliminal Advertising: Psychology and Ethics

A recent Food Network mistake caused a flurry of allegations that the network was attempting to use subliminal messaging on one of the network’s gourmet shows, Iron Chef, when a McDonalds symbol flashed across the screen (pictured below). Subliminal advertising, which plays on the theory that “one can influence behavior by secretly appealing to the subconscious mind with words, images, or sounds,” is clearly a controversial topic in the business world today, despite its widespread use for the past fifty years. Customers are frightened by the idea that their subconscious minds can be influenced, without their awareness, to respond to advertisements. Some of these adds feature sexual or otherwise-appealing hidden messages. For example, some have claimed the Starbucks Coffee symbol, pictured to the left, has sexual undertones (notice the strategic placement and suspicious number of the mermaid’s fins).

Are these fears justified, and what are the ethical implications of unconscious advertising? The first psychologist to coin the term “subliminal advertising” was James Vicary, who tested out his idea in 1957. He declared that over forty-five thousand moviegoers were subjected to images flashed briefly across the screen stating “Eat Popcorn” and “Drink Coca-Cola,” which caused popcorn sales to increase by an incredible 57%. Although his widely publicized experiment is how many consumers and advertisers today became aware of this phenomenon, Vicary himself later admitted that his results were falsified, and there is evidence to show that he never conduced the experiment in the first place. Despite such evidence, sexually suggestive and even explicit subliminal advertisements consistently appear in television, magazine, and radio advertisements.

Recent psychological studies have begun to claim that there may be some truth to the effects of subliminal advertising. One psychologist, Hawkins, was able to show “increased thirst ratings following subliminal exposure to” Coca-Cola, which “have been used as empirical evidence that subliminal advertising can directly affect consumption-relevant behavior.” According to Jo Anna Natale of Psychology Today, companies like Potentials Unlimited are taking a new direction in admitting that their products are full of subliminal messages that will help consumers break bad habits (similar to hypnosis). Natale also cited a study in which groups were shown the same advertisement, either with or without a hidden sexual image (a naked woman). The findings supported the power of subliminal messages, as participants in the group “who saw the whiskey ad with the hidden image rated it higher…than did people who saw the whiskey ad without the image.” This is a similar concept to the picture of the flowers to the left, which contains a hidden word. Psychologist Johan Karremans was recently able to conduct one of the most convincing studies. In her article “Subliminal Advertising may work after all,” Alison Motluk of explains how his study showed that thirsty participants exposed to subliminal advertising for Lipton Ice were more likely to choose that beverage afterwards.

For each argument in support of the effectiveness of subliminal messaging, there is compelling evidence to the contrary. Follow up studies conducted on Hawkin’s study featuring Coca-Cola did not find convincing results. Another study by Trappey, which attempted to “scientifically evaluate whether or not subliminal marketing stimuli [were] an effective means for influencing consumer choice behavior” found that “… leading to the conclusion that subliminal advertising has little influence on the consumer’s decision to select between alternatives.” Potentials Unlimited tapes work like hypnosis. Individuals only claim to have been successfully hypnotized if, prior to being hypnotized, they were believers in hypnosis. Likewise, subliminal messages will most likely effect individuals who consciously think that such messages will alter their behavior. And, it is not yet clear how long the effects in the Lipton Ice experiment will last—it could easily only be a few minutes. As long as consumers are aware of why they are making their decisions as buyers, subliminal advertising will not have a harmful effect. In other words, if individuals think consciously and rationally before making purchases, subliminal advertisements will not influence their decisions. Additionally, while some ads blatantly display hidden sexual images or undertones, many of the claims made that ads feature suggestive elements are grasping for messages that are not there or were not intended by their creators.

If subliminal advertising does, however, have the potential to affect buyers’ choices, is it an ethical practice for businesses and psychologists to use and develop? Rebecca Clay’s article from the American Psychological Association gives examples of psychologists, such as Esther Thorson, who have been “analyzing ads to learn more about the art of persuasion” and make subliminal messaging into a kind of science that they can sell to advertisers. Psychologists, though, should not employ their knowledge of perception and cognition to alter behavior against consumers’ conscious wishes. In my view this would be a violation of free will. Moreover, the Federal Communications Commision does not support subliminal advertising, although the practice is difficult to prove and has not been formally defined. Realistically, subliminal persuasion is probably not going to stop, but if consumers become more educated on its methods the effects of such advertising will likely diminish.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Personality Testing: Will Irises Replace Resumes?

Personality tests are no longer just a frivolous way to procrastinate, and they might end up costing you a job or two. More and more businesses are using tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator during the interview process to try and find the perfect fit for their company culture and reduce turnover. What do psychologists have to say about personality? Personality is not fixed, is not necessarily accurately determined by personality tests, and, unfortunately, is difficult to fake during such tests. In this post I am focusing on personality from the view of both a psychological and a business standpoint. I have commented on two recent blogs that have addressed the subject of personality developments in each prospective field, and have inserted my comments below. The first blog post I commented on, entitled The Iris is the Window to the Soul, is written by Dr. Vaughan Bell, a psychologist and one of the authors of the book “Mind Hacks,” pictured next to the comment. Bell overviews an exciting new psychological study that claims the eyes reveal certain personality traits- almost like palm readers and seeing the future, except this can be scientifically proven (the specific components of the iris, pictured and labeled above, are determinant of certain characteristics). In the second blog, author and founder of C.M. Russell discusses matching employees with the right jobs based on personality. In his post, Burn Jobs, Burn, Russell looks into the upcoming website JobBurner, pictured at the end of this post, which aims to use personality tests to synchronize the right applicants and companies.

“The Iris is the Window to the Soul”
This research is both impressive and disconcerting. While it is not surprising that personality is, at least in part, genetic, it is unbelievable and exciting that the irises more or less map out the personality. Mostly, it makes me wonder how such technology will be used in the future, and what its purpose is. Your comment that “the UK government wants to encode iris information on passports and keep copies on database to use in iris recognition systems” seems like a violation of privacy and is reminiscent of the futuristic movie Minority Report, in which eye scanning is used by both the government and by advertisers to identify and target individuals. I could even see eye scanning being used to screen applicants’ personalities for jobs. Lastly, I am unclear about a couple of concepts. You cited other similar studies that looked into the relationship between personality and color, which “fail to replicate the personality findings, typically because the effect tends to fade after early childhood.” Is Larsson's research primarily different and more successful because it is applicable in adults? If so, since personality is not stable, do our irises change with new personality developments? Hopefully, if this technique is used on younger children it will not lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy from parents!

“Burn Jobs, Burn”
I realize that it is not a new phenomenon to test applicants’ personalities during an interview, but JobBurner seems to be taking this to a new level. I am skeptical of their claim that their “patent-pending personality scoring system” will “generate better results” than existing ones. Personality tests, from a psychology standpoint, are never that accurate in the first place. Hopefully, businesses will take such results lightly and continue to focus more on experience, recommendations, and the quality of the interview. You quote that Shane Henderson, the CEO, “previously was Director of Development at and is an expert in software algorithms that match people together. I wonder how Henderson’s previous experience with personality testing will translate- it seems that a very different approach should be taken to match people romantically versus professionally. The bottom line is that job rejection has become even harder now that your personality score, not just your resume, is being critiqued.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Women in the Workplace: The Psychology of Business Communication

There has been a drastic shift in the business and gender debate in the past twenty years. Now, psychologists are not asking if women can survive in the business world but instead are researching how women can use their specific communication style as an advantage. Equally important, women are supporting each other in their leadership roles. Linda Hirshman, author of "Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World,” wrote in The Seattle Times about how presidential candidate Hilary Clinton may be counting on women’s votes to become the leader of the country. By allowing women to relate to her, through tactics such as “[announcing] her candidacy for president while sitting on her living-room couch,” Clinton, pictured to the right, may be able to get more female votes. Additionally, another article in The Business Review cites how successful businesswoman Melinda Wickley has recently joined the board of Women Executives Leading Empowering and Developing (WeLead), which is dedicated to “[empowering] women in leadership roles.” However, as Hirshman noted, outside support is not enough for women to become successful businesspeople and leaders. The challenges that they face through stereotypes and miscommunication call for independent and resourceful personalities.

One of the main challenges women face in the business world is in dealing with gender differences. Psychologists have been researching the causes of such dissimilarities for years—are they caused by nature or nurture? A staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, Joe Garofoli, reports on Louann Brizendine's ideas about the neurological differences between the sexes. This neuropsychiatrist has recently argued in her book The Female Brain that women are simply wired differently, which causes the difference between men and women’s actions in the workplace (the nature theory). She believes that women are, however, equally intelligent as men and simply need alternate accommodations in the business world.

No matter what the cause, nearly all psychologists agree that there are large communication gaps between genders that can cause miscommunication at work. Candy Tymson, a business communication expert with a background in public relations and marketing, separates communication into two broad styles. She categorizes men under the “Information Style,” in which the focus of communication is to “preserve independence and negotiate and maintain status.” In contrast, women more often utilize a “Relationship Style” by using verbal communication to establish bonds and “[negotiate] relationships.” Therefore, women in managerial positions are more likely to seek outside advice to form relationships, and businessmen may see this as weak and as a demotion of the woman’s status. Tymson also notes differences in nonverbal communication. During a presentation, a man will interpret a woman’s close attention and continual nodding as an acceptance of their proposal. Yet this is another way for women to establish bonds and show they are listening. Deborah Tannen echoes many of these ideas in “You Just Don't Understand.” Although not her most recent argument on the topic, the highly respected Tannen nonethtless makes valid points. She agrees that men use communication to establish their status, while women do so to establish relationships. This creates problems when women supervise men, because “for men, doing what [they are] asked to do means they have lost status in that relationship.” Women in leadership positions need to carefully approach male subordinates about completing tasks or accepting blame for mistakes. What women view as politeness or ways to facilitate the ease of conversation, men may mistake for weakness or lower status.

There is an apparent tension between women becoming successful leaders and being unable to communicate successfully with their male counterparts. How can women solve this dilemma, and can they become even better leaders than men? One of the two communication mistakes that women consistently make when dealing with men is to constantly apologize when they have done nothing wrong, as a way to lubricate conversation, and thank others unnecessarily. While other women will understand that “thank you” and “sorry” are often not meant literally, men often perceive both as a way to lower status by accepting help or blame. A specialist on gender communication, Simma Lieberman, makes some other useful suggestions. Businesswomen should work on “[getting] get to bottom line quickly and succinctly,” being patient when men are reluctant to solve problems collectively, and only asking for aid when needed. It is important to note, however, that they should not totally suppress their natural communication tendencies. Instead, women should simply be more aware of the consequences and possible misinterpretations of utilizing certain communication styles when working with men. It ought to be evident that women’s communication skills can be a strong asset in the business world, which has led some to surmise that women make better leaders in many situations. Of course, these broad suppositions about men and women are generalizations, and do not apply to all men or women—furthermore, they simply highlight the general differences between genders.

Carlinn Flora of Psychology Today believes just that—their collaborative communication style allows women to pass on important knowledge to subordinates (pictured to the left is the Forbes list of the top 100 women in 2006, many of which are business leaders). Additionally, her fellow author for Psychology Today, Lisa Mainiero, noticed in her study of successful women that “they tend to be better listeners, to have more insight into people, to come right out and say what they think, and not pull any punches.” These women were able to climb the corporate ladder by behaving bluntly and honestly, working assiduously, thinking creatively, and taking responsibility. This fusion of female communication skills reformatted to fit into the business sphere is what women need to be successful leaders.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Facebook: Does it Help or Hinder Hiring?

College graduates are beginning to face a brand new dilemma. While months ago they were being told to increase the privacy of online profiles, now Facebook, pictured on the right, is becoming a networking and job-hunting asset. This has inspired me to take a new approach to my post by commenting on two other blogs recently discussing Facebook and hiring practices. My comments can be seen in the following two paragraphs. The first post I chose to comment on is from the blog Unit Structures by Fred Stutzman, a Ph.D. student and established businessman. In his recent blog post entitled “You're not my Friend: A new look at Privacy on Facebook,” Stutzman researches how many undergraduate students use available privacy options for the site. The second post I commented on is by Katie Fehrenbacher, a reporter for GigaOM, who focuses on technology and companies. Her blog, “Jobster Gets a Facebook Lift,” comments on the recent agreement between the job posting site and Facebook.

“You're not my Friend: A new look at Privacy on Facebook”
First, I would like to say that I found your post and research interesting. However, I would like to disagree with, and expand on, some of your points. While you seemed surprised by the number of undergrads using privacy controls, stating, “We're no longer in a paradigm where privacy isn't important to students; they are mindful of their privacy and are acting to protect their interests,” your findings show that fewer than thirty percent of students were using these controls. Considering some of the content on many Facebook pages, such as addresses, telephone numbers, and explicit and personal pictures, this seems like far too small of a percentage. Additionally, you focused on how many students blocked other campus-affiliated parties from their profiles- is this really the issue? Since Facebook has expanded to allow just about anyone to join, it seems that the real concern is how many undergraduates are restricting those from outside of their college or university. More specifically, problems have occurred when employers or hiring managers have found a way to access student profiles to view their information.

“Jobster Gets a Facebook Lift”
Your post brings up many interesting questions about the direction Facebook is taking and how this will affect undergraduates currently utilizing the service. As “Jobster is adding a ’share on Facebook’ button on Thursday that will pull in aspects of the Jobster profile onto your Facebook page,” profiles on the site will now transform from a personal to a professional networking service. I wonder if this will create as much of an outcry from enraged Facebook users as the new “News Feed” option did, which gave the site much less of a private feel. In a way, linking Facebook to job searching takes the fun out of Facebook, which was originally created as a way to let college students network and share with their friends. College students have already been warned about having to try and hide their profiles from potential and current employers by raising privacy settings and taking off content that would seem inappropriate to such parties. Are they taking the fun out of Facebook, or was Facebook only a business venture in the first place?

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Repressed Memories: The Business of Unscientific Therapy

Most therapy consumers are savvy enough to recognize that rebirthing and past life regression are not realistic approaches to psychological health. However, numerous educated help-seekers would be surprised to discover that some publicized and professionally presented therapeutic methods offer little scientific support and have been widely discredited by psychologists and doctors. The best disguised of these therapies are those associated with repressed memories and helping victims of traumatic events, such as assault or rape. They build on the antiquated and discredited theories of Sigmund Feud, pictured to the right, the forefather of psychoanalysis. According to The Skeptic’s Dictionary, psychodynamic theory is “second only to Scientology as the champion purveyor of false and misleading claims about the mind, mental health, and mental illness.” Even Freud himself eventually relinquished some of his claims about repressed memory, a condition where memories of traumatic experiences are pushed into the unconscious. As indicated by ABC Science’s Dr. Karl S. Kruszelnicki, Freud later realized that he had unintentionally implanted false memories in his client’s minds, causing the memories to appear real to his patients.

Scientific studies have proven how easily repressed memories can be created by therapists. One of the most creative and renowned studies was conducted by Elizabeth Loftus, a psychology professor and expert on repressed memory. A writer for The Boston Globe, Joanna Weis, recalls how Loftus “persuaded some lab subjects, falsely, that they remembered hugging Bugs Bunny at Disneyland;” as Bugs Bunny is not a Disneyland character, this could not have occurred. By using her authority position as a psychologist or by tampering with childhood photographs, Loftus has successfully convinced subjects that they underwent fictitious distress.

Repressed memories have been discredited by psychological studies and even their creator, Freud; however many widely used therapies today are based on this aspect of psychodynamic theory. Hypnosis, pictured to the left, is one such technique that has been utilized to recover memories that have been, allegedly, submerged into the unconscious. The American Heritage® Science Dictionary has defined hypnosis as “a trancelike state resembling sleep, usually induced by a therapist by focusing a subject's attention, that heightens the subject's receptivity to suggestion.” The Skeptic’s Dictionary refutes claims about the validity of hypnosis, citing research that has shown “a significant correlation between being able to be absorbed in imaginative activity and being responsive to hypnosis,” and “hypnosis does not enhance the accuracy of memory.” In other words, rational, less susceptible subjects and those who do not believe in hypnosis will not believe they are recovering memories - those that do believe they have achieved such results are victims of false memory implantation by the hypnotist. Nicholas Spanos, a psychologist who has done research on hypnosis, has found that a “subject acts in accordance with expectations of the hypnotist and hypnotic situation” instead of actually being controlled by the power of hypnosis.

Dissociative identity disorder (DID), more commonly known in films and pop culture as multiple personality disorder, is known to be discovered in patients through methods like hypnosis. Although it is sighted in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, pictured below, psychology professors and experts often claim that DID is actually the result of therapy and implanted memories connected to trauma. Symptoms, such as the belief that one has many personalities, usually begin after a client has started psychodynamic therapy and has been encouraged by the therapist that they have DID. Dr. Paul McHugh shows the strategies that therapists use to create such symptoms in clients. He sites a specialist on DID, Dr. Stephen Buie, who encourages psychologists to find out if their patient has the disorder. Buie says “You may have to elicit an alter... You can begin by indirect [sic] questioning such as, 'Have you ever felt like another part of you does things that you can't control?’” While the therapist genuinely believes they are helping a patient come to terms with an alternate personality, they are asking leading questions. Many clients will answer that, at times, they have felt out of control. From an unethical business perspective, this is a lucrative opportunity for therapists, who have “created both the disease and the cure,” according to Psychologist Nicholas P. Spanos.

Another form of therapy, related to repressed memories and used to help trauma victims, that has been widely discredited by professionals is EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). The confusing part about its ineffectiveness and lack of scientific support is that it seems to work. However, according to The Skeptic’s Dictionary, EMDR practitioners are simply combining a harmless and ineffective action, the moving of the eyes back and forth, with other successful therapy approaches for post-traumatic stress disorder, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. As in this case, if a therapist is lacking a license in psychology or psychiatry and practices psychoanalysis, hypnosis, or EMDR, any possible success may simply be due to a placebo effect. More importantly, utilizing repressed memories could do actual harm to a client. However, empirically supported treatment plans are available to consumers. A proven treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder or other trauma related problems is cognitive-behavioral therapy, a quick behavior-changing method practiced by many trained psychologists.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Psychology of Procrastination: Increasing Productivity in the Workplace

Since the business world now never sleeps, utilizing time in the most productive way possible is an increasingly important problem to manage. Unfortunately, human development has not progressed as rapidly as business has expanded, and procrastination is an increasingly prominent dilemma in fast-paced jobs such as marketing, public relations, and advertising.

Psychologists are aware of this problem and recent progress has been made to discover why people procrastinate and what they can do to be more productive. Piers Steel (pictured below) is both a psychologist and Human Resources and Organizational Dynamics professor who integrated these fields in order to make insights about procrastination.

When viewed with the eye of a hiring manager, Steel’s research on the topic can be insightful. The study of organizational behavior generally shows that there are many benefits to having an older employee base, in that they are less likely to quit or be absent. Also, his studies have shown that there are basically equal benefits to having employees of either sex. According to writer Karen Ravin, Steel’s research demonstrates that older people are also less inclined to procrastinate and that women may be less prone to procrastination.

In addition to valuing older employees and possibly more women, a hiring manager worried about procrastination might want to start looking at certain personality traits. Instead of looking at “perfectionism and anxiety” as causes of procrastination, evidence shows that perfectionists are actually less likely to engage in such behavior because they are more anxious about performance. Now, hiring managers should be aware that “impulsiveness [is] the prime suspect" for procrastination.

Utilizing the mathematical equation Steel created for procrastination, a hiring manager might be able to more accurately measure a potential employee's productivity. This formula shows that “desirability of the task” is equal to “the person’s expectancy for succeeding” multiplied by “the value of completing the task,” both divided by its “availability” times “sensitivity to delay." Psychologists have developed numerous short tests that allow companies to test a future employee's skills and potential, and it is possible that this equation could be used to test procrastination.

Knowledge about procrastination is not only useful for managers- it can also help individual employees suffering from the habit. Steel gives his own advice with a clever analogy about easy Internet access via portable devices- "imagine trying to diet with a magic floating spoon of ice cream following you around." The best way to avoid tempting distractions like email is to be aware of any unnecessary overuse of such devices and to turn them off when they are not necessary.

A writer for Small Business Success, Beth Tabak, advises that people complete “unpleasant tasks” in the morning in order to feel a sense of accomplishment and reduce chances of putting it off as the day progresses. Furthermore, she suggests breaking up larger projects into smaller, more manageable tasks and setting aside a clear schedule for them in advance. Both Tabak and Lorraine Cohen, a business writer, encourage procrastinators to envision both positive outcomes (completing tasks successfully) and negative outcomes (putting them off). By making their positive vision detailed and exciting, procrastinators will be more likely to complete the task efficiently.

Psychological insights have consistently provided managers with new knowledge about how to relate to their employees. Initially, business owners utilized studies about motivation in the workplace to link productivity to wages and consistently give workers positive reinforcement. Perhaps future studies concerning procrastination will spark new business practices that become as basic as paying based on performance.