Posts Tagged ‘Work’

Every woman knows how hard it is to get ready in the morning. Between the shaving, the plucking, the moisturizing, the fluffing, and the polishing, making yourself beautiful is a big commitment to make before you’ve even had your first sip of coffee. Once you start calculating the amount of time you’ve spent straightening your hair and putting on makeup, you start to wonder if all the effort is really worth it. After all, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Right?

Of course, but that doesn’t mean we always know it. It’s a stereotype that pervades movies, television sitcoms, and stand-up routines–pretty people are treated differently than their average-looking peers. Unfortunately, this cultural belief has some truth to it. People tend to ascribe positive attributes to the people they view as attractive, rating them as more sociable, happy, and successful than their less attractive peers, a phenomenon known as the “what is beautiful is good” stereotype. This short-cut in thinking can lead to real-world consequences; the effect has been observed with teachers’ perceptions of students, voter preferences for candidates, and even in simulated juries.

Good-looking people are often seen as more intelligent than other people, which can help explain why the “what is beautiful is good” stereotype applies to evaluations of job applicants. The more attractive a job candidate, the greater the likelihood that they will be hired. Though this effect has been shown for both men and women, there are some catches for female candidates. When applying for traditionally feminine positions, pretty women are rated more highly than less attractive women, even when participants are told that their qualifications are the same. However, when applying for positions that are typically viewed as masculine, attractive women are seen as less capable than less attractive candidates.

I guess this means all the fluffing is worth it. Until you get your dream job, at least.


At the beginning of a busy day, you’re called to the boss’s office. As you walk down the corridor to reach the corner office, you feel like a high school student being summoned to visit the principal. The manager is sitting at his desk in the strangely dark room, waiting for you to explain why you were late this week. As you stumble through your response, it occurs to you that the man across from you has control over your position in the company, your career, and by association, a significant portion of your life. Fueled by indignation, thoughts about the injustice of the workplace well up inside of you. You’ve read the Psychopath Test; you know that people that lack compassion reach the upper echelons of society. This fat cat probably cheated his way into his position, propelled up the ladder by cutthroat blindsides and merciless takedowns of anyone who got in his way. That’s how you get to the top, right?

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His plans for improving the fourth quarter include eliminating lunch breaks and non-work-related conversations.

Well, not exactly. Joanthan Lehrer with the Wall Street Journal points to research that suggests that unlike the stereotype of the unfeeling misanthrope that rules the office with an iron first, most of the time leadership is given to people who behave nicely. Leaders in social hierarchies tend to rate highly on scales measuring extraversion and agreeableness–the traits that you would want in a friend. In fact, psychologists have found that the members who spread gossip and engage in other negative behaviors are isolated from the group before they can inflict more damage, not given more power to wield.

So why do we think of people in power as compassionless dictators who no longer care about the little guy?

Although the stereotype of the dictator drunk on authority may go to the extreme, the concept of a leader losing touch with his employees isn’t without merit. As the old saying goes, success changes people. People in positions of authority become less sympathetic to the needs of others, often relying on stereotypes and generalizations to get them through the day. One researcher compared people in power to patients suffering from brain damage to the orbito-frontal lobe, the portion of the brain vital to empathy. Consistently, power makes it easier for us to avoid viewing the world through the eyes of others.

In one experiment Lehrer mentions, researchers at Northwestern University asked participants to focus on a time that they felt powerless or a time that they felt powerful. They then asked them to draw the letter “E” on their foreheads. The participants who were asked to describe a time that they felt powerful were more likely to draw the letter backward from the perspective of the person looking at them, suggesting that just focusing on a time of power encouraged some participants to stop considering the viewpoint of others.

Have you ever noticed yourself becoming less sympathetic when you were placed in charge of something?

Life has been good to you, my friend. You’re graduating from college. You’re moving out of your parents’ house. You’re starting a career. It’s all just what you imagined being an adult would feel like. You’re proud to pay your own bills, proud to be working, or looking for work, in your field, proud to be starting your life. Or at least that’s how you know you should feel, and that’s half the battle, right? You definitely know that you shouldn’t feel overwhelmed by the choices available to you, terrified that you’re making the wrong decisions, trapped in a lifestyle that you chose only a few years ago. That’s not the adulthood that you signed up for.

A quarter-life crisis is the period around 25 when some people start screaming, “Stop this life, I want to get off!” Just like its counterpart, the mid-life crisis, it’s a time to reevaluate your decisions and figure out where you really want to be in life. Haunted with names like “adultescence,” it stems from the anxiety about achieving your goals and the wide range of opportunities that have to be sifted through before you choose the path that works for you.

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“I’ll either be a doctor, or a filmmaker. Or open a bakery.”

The quarter-life crisis presents itself in five stages:

1. Feeling trapped.

2. Deciding you need to get out of what you’re doing and change your life.

3. Stopping the things in your life that are making you feel trapped and going through a period of finding yourself .

4. Starting over.

5. Finding careers and goals that are better suited to your interests.

This generation of 22- to 30-year-olds may experience the quarter-life crisis more strongly than previous generations, because they grew up in an affluent time with high expectations for what the future would hold–expectations that many are finding difficult to meet. As time goes on, and the difference between what you want to accomplish and what you’re actually accomplishing becomes apparent, you feel the need to right what went wrong and get your life back on track. Remember, quarter-life crises aren’t necessarily negative; in fact, 80% of people who reported going through this period considers it to have been a positive influence in their lives.

If you’re in the midst of the anxiety and frustration of a quarter-life crisis, it sounds like the best advice is to get out, get going, and figure out what you want. You’ve got work to do.

Imagine sitting in the cool office of a polite yet impassive human resources manager. Your suit is heavy, your throat feels as if you’ve been singing soprano all morning, and your smile is beginning to falter under the weight of its constant enthusiasm. The manager looks up from studying your resume—the twelfth he’s seen that day. You subtly wipe your palms against your pant leg and steel your nerve. You’ve prepared for this moment. You’re ready for anything he can throw at you. The manager tosses you a lowball—“Tell me about yourself.”

And your mind goes completely blank.

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Well, I’m an excellent baker.

If you’re feeling hard on yourself for cracking during a job interview, keep in mind that it may be a sign you have a high working memory capacity. Working memory, which gives you the ability to hold and retrieve information during a long task, is operating on overdrive during an interview. You need to remember information about the company and the person interviewing you, to retrieve the tiny details of your work history, and to juggle the information in a way that paints the best picture of you as a potential employee.

In short, stressful events can overwhelm the working memory. During a high pressure situation, anxiety begins to use up energy that otherwise would be used to recall information. Those invading thoughts about how you are performing take up a portion of your working memory capacity, causing people with high capacities to perform worse than they would under easier circumstances. The pressure doesn’t make people with low working memory capacities perform any worse than they normally would, because they never had the capacity to use in the first place.

From here on out, you can wear your embarrassing interview stories as a badge of pride. You’re not bad at job interviews; you just have a high working memory capacity! You should bring that up to the hiring manager the next time you flub an interview question.

(To learn more about working memory, click on this previous post.)

Why We Overtip

Posted: May 14, 2012 in Daily Life
Tags: , , , , , ,

The old saying goes that it is better to give than to receive, and no one needs that statement to be true more than waiters. Although the average tip falls somewhere between 15% and 20%, it certainly helps to have customers who want to spend those extra few dollars resting in their pockets. For years, studies have provided a variety of methods that servers can use to increase their tips, such as giving their customers candy, drawing pictures or smiley faces on the check, and even predicting good weather.

Today’s specials include chicken piccata and psychological warfare.

Though these tricks of the trade haven proven effective, many customers know how much they’re going to tip before they even enter a restaurant. So why do some people habitually tip 25% percent or more whenever they go to a restaurant, regardless of whether or not they enjoyed the service?

It could be that they are enjoying the physiological benefits of tipping as an act of altruism. The pleasure center, whose routine customers include orgasm and fatty foods, also has another frequent guest—generosity. When someone engages in an act of altruism, the reward center, located in the nucleus accumbens in the limbic system of the brain, becomes activated. The truly altruistic gesture releases endorphins and dopamine, letting our minds know that we participated in an act worth pursuing again.

The feeling that is derived from generosity reinforces the behavior so that the person will want to continue to experience that pleasure. And, if altruism follows the same guidelines as the other, less positive frequenters of the reward center, such as alcohol and sugar, then customers would need to give more as time goes on to trigger the same level of pleasure that was released during the first act.

That’s good news for anyone who makes their money from tips.

Lauren Volpone