Task Switching Skills Improved With Musical Training

Ira Hyman

Ira Hyman

“Multitasking” is more accurately described as “task switching” because people typically can’t effectively sustain split attention.
However, it is possible to alternate between two mental tasks, but there is a “cognitive switching cost” in decreased speed and performance accuracy.

S. Matthew Boss

S. Matthew Boss

One vivid example of performance decrements when performing simple “multitasking” is illustrated in a study of walking while using a mobile phone, conducted by Western Washington University’s Ira E. Hyman Jr., S. Matthew Boss, Breanne M. Wise-Swanson, Kira E. McKenzie, and Jenna M. Caggiano.

Ira Hyman-Unicycling Clown Attentional BlindnessThey found that walking and talking caused most volunteers to experience “inattentional blindness” to unicycling clown.

Breanne M Wise-Swanson

Breanne M Wise-Swanson

In addition, the “multitasking” participants walked more slowly, changed directions more frequently, and were less likely to acknowledge other people than individuals.

Hyman and team concluded, “Doing more than one task at a time, especially more than one complex task, takes a toll on productivity,” and went on to note the dangers of driving while talking on a phone.
In fact, a previous blog reviewed the evidence for reduced driving performance when listening to music, a less-demanding activity than texting or talking on a telephone.

Ranate Meuter

Ranate Meuter

Even switching between two well-practiced languages can reduce cognitive processing speed, found Queensland University of Techology’s Renata Meuter and University of Oxford’s Alan Allport.

They asked bilingual participants to name numerals in their first language or second language in an unpredictable sequence.
Participants responded more slowly when they switched to the other language, indicating a “cognitive switching cost.”

Volunteers named digits associated with a background color in their first language or second language.
They named digits in their second language more slowly, but were slower in their first language after the language changed from the previous cue.

Jeffrey Evans

Jeffrey Evans

Involuntary persistence of the second-acquired language interfered with participants actively suppressing their original language, leading to delays when responding in their more well practiced “birth tongue,” they argued.

As tasks become more complex, the performance-hampering effects of task switching increase, according to United Stated Federal Aviation Authority’s Joshua Rubinstein with Jeffrey Evans, and David Meyer of University of Michigan, who evaluated switching between different task like solving math problems or classifying geometric objects.

David Meyer

David Meyer

Like Meuter and Allport, they noted that people switching tasks navigate two stages of “executive control:”

  • Goal shifting: “I want to do this now instead of that,”
  • Rule activation: “I’m turning off the rules for that and turning on the rules for this”.Rubinstein’s team estimated that traversing these phases can reduce productivity by much as 40 percent, and noted that the problem is compounded for individuals with damage to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
Linda Moradzadeh

Linda Moradzadeh

However, musical training seems to reduce the costs of task switching, found York University’s Linda Moradzadeh, Galit Blumenthal, and Melody Wiseheart.
This team matched more than 150 similar age and socioeconomic status participants who were also:

  • Monolingual musicians (averaging 12 years of musical training) or
  • Bilingual musicians (averaging 12 years of musical training) or
  • Bilingual non-musicians or
  • Monolingual non-musicians.
Galit Blumenthal

Galit Blumenthal

Volunteers performed task switching and dual-task challenges, along with intelligence and vocabulary measures.
Musicians demonstrated fewer global and local switch costs compared with non-musicians and bilingual volunteers.
This finding contrasts other results regarding bilingualism’s advantage for task switching performance in a previous blog post.

Melody Wiseheart

Melody Wiseheart

In addition, Moradzadeh’s team found no benefit of combining bilingual expertise with musical training to reduce task-switching costs,

These results suggest that musical training can contribute to increased ability to shift between mental sets in both task switching and dual-task efforts, thanks to “superior ability to maintain and manipulate competing information in memory, allowing for efficient “global” or holistic processing.”

-*To what extent do you find “multitasking” an effective practice to accomplish cognitive tasks?

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Comparative Rankings May Reduce Gender Bias in Career Advancement

Iris Bohnet

Iris Bohnet

An “evaluation nudge” – or decision framing aid – may reduce biased judgments in hiring, promotion, and job assignments, according to Harvard’s Iris Bohnet, Alexandra van Geen, and Max H. Bazerman.

Alexandra van Geen

Alexandra van Geen

They proposed that organizations evaluate multiple employees  simultaneously rather than each person independently without comparison to other candidates, somewhat similar to “Stack Ranking” (“Rank and Yank”) procedures advocated by Jack Welch at General Electric and critiqued in a previous blog post .

This approach is frequently used for hiring decisions, but less frequently when considering employee candidates for developmental job assignments and promotions.

Max Bazerman

Max Bazerman

Bazerman and Sally B. White, then of Northwestern with George F. Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon, provided the original demonstration of preference reversals between joint and separate evaluation.

George F. Loewenstein

George F. Loewenstein

Lack of comparison information in separate evaluation typically leads people to rely on internal referents as decision norms, though these may be biased or stereotyped preferences, according to Princeton’s Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and Dale T. Miller of Stanford.

Dale T. Miller

Dale T. Miller

Additionally, lack of comparative referents can lead evaluators to rely on easily calibrated attributes, found University of Chicago’s Christopher K. Hsee.
Both of these short cuts can lead to biased decisions, which may systematically exclude particular under-represented groups.

Christopher K. Hsee

Christopher K. Hsee

Still another problem is the “want/should” battle of emotions and preferences, outlined by Bazerman and Ann E. Tenbrunsel of Notre Dame, with Duke’s Kimberly A. Wade-Benzoni in “Negotiating with Yourself and Losing.”

Ann E. Tenbrunsel

Ann E. Tenbrunsel

They argue that the “want self” tends to dominate when deciding on a single option because there’s both less information and less need to justify the decision.
In contrast, the more analytic “should self” is activated by the need to explain decision rationales.

Kimberly Wade-Benzoni

Kimberly Wade-Benzoni

Bohnet’s team asked more than 175 volunteer “employees” to perform a math task or a verbal task, then 554 “employer” evaluators (44% male, 56% female) received information on “employees’” past performance, gender, and the average past performance for all “employees.”

“Employers” were paid based on their “employees’’” performance in future tasks, similar to managerial incentives in many organizations.
Consequently, “employers” were rewarded for selecting people they considered effective performers.
Based on information about “employee” performance, evaluators decided to:

  • “Hire” the “employees,” or
  • Recommend them to perform the task in future, or
  • Return to “employees” to the pool for random assignment to an employer.
Keith E. Stanovich

Keith E. Stanovich

The Harvard team found that “employers” who evaluated “employees” in relation to each other’s performance were more likely to select employees based on past performance, rather than relying on irrelevant criteria like gender.

Richard F. West

Richard F. West

In contrast, more than 50% of “employers” evaluated each candidate separately without reference to other “employees,” selected under-performing people for advancement.
Only 8% of employers selected under-performers when comparing “employees” in relation to each other, and multiple raters for multiple candidates also tended to select the higher performing “employees.”

Team Bohnet suggested that people have two distinct and situation-specific modes of thinking, “System 1” and “System 2,” illustrated by University of Toronto’s Keith E. Stanovich and Richard F. West of James Mason University.

Keith Stanovich-Richard West System 1- System 2 ThinkingThese varied cognitive patterns can lead evaluators to select incorrect decision norms, leading to biased outcomes.

As a result, decision tools like the “evaluative nudge” decision-framing procedure can reduce bias in hiring and promotion decisions, leading to a more equitable workplace opportunity across demographic groups.

-*What other evaluation procedures can reduce unconscious bias in performance appraisal and career advancement selection processes?

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Low-Stakes Testing Improves Learning Retention, Retrieval

Henry L. Roediger III

Henry L. Roediger III

Few people enjoy having knowledge gaps exposed by formal testing, but those who receive this corrective feedback are more likely to retain information over time, according to studies by Washington University’s Henry L. Roediger III and Jeffrey D. Karpicke.

Mary Pyc

Mary Pyc

Their work confirms considerable previous research, and the idea that testing acts as a “meditator” to retrieve stored information, suggested by Kent State University’s Mary A. Pyc and Katherine A. Rawson.

Katherine A. Rawson

Katherine A. Rawson

Participants in Roediger and Karpicke’s investigation read texts and were tested by writing as much as they recalled of selected sections, rather than completing a multiple choice test or writing a critical thinking essay on the topic.
Volunteers recalled about 70 percent of the ideas they’d read, then re-read the
remaining passages that were not tested.

Jeffrey D. Karpicke

Jeffrey D. Karpicke

Delayed testing on both sets of readings occurred after two days or seven days, and volunteers were significantly more able to remember material on which they’d been tested.

Roediger and Karpicke noted that testing requires people to retrieve knowledge from memory, rather than merely acquire information as when reading or listening to a lecture.
The testing effect, also known as the retrieval practice effect, strengthens learning by embedding information in memory.

Karl Szpunar

Karl Szpunar

Most effective testing is integrated into learning with frequent, low-stakes checkpoints in contrast to less frequent, higher-stakes testing in the traditional British education system, they suggested.

Novall Y. Khan

Novall Y. Khan

Additionally, “interpolated testing” during learning activities enables people to sustain attention, reduce mind wandering, test anxiety, and perceived “cognitive load,” found Harvard’s Karl K. Szpunar, Novall Y. Khan, and Daniel L. Schacter.

Sarah L. Eddy

Sarah L. Eddy

The testing effect can benefit people who have previously under-performed relative to their peers, and are under-represented in courses, reported University of Washington’s Sarah L Eddy and Mary Pat Wenderoth with Sara E Brownell of Arizona State University.

Mary Pat Wenderoth

Mary Pat Wenderoth

They evaluated women’s academic achievement and participation in class discussions in more than 20 large university biology courses.

Sara E. Brownell

Sara E. Brownell

Unlike in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, 60% of the students were women.
However, they responded to only 40% of questions posed by the instructor during classes, much less than their representation in the course.
In addition, these women achieved lower exam scores than men with similar overall academic performance.

Daniel Schachter

Daniel Schachter

However, when the researchers introduced frequent, low-stakes testing – even without providing test results – women’s information retention and accessing significantly improved.

Frequent low-stakes testing integrated into learning activities leads to longer-term information comprehension, retention, and application – and this frequent exposure to a sometimes-feared or disliked activity can reduce avoidant reactions.

-*How effective do you find frequent tests to increase recall and retention of learning materials?

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Intrinsic Motives, not Positive Consequences Linked to Achieving Goals, Career Performance

Amy Wrzesniewski

Amy Wrzesniewski

Sustained effort toward a goal may be intrinsically motivated by personal interest or commitment to the larger “mission.”
At the same time, goal-seeking activity may be extrinsically motivated by external rewards, which can undermine the positive impact of intrinsic motivation on continuing effective career performance.

Xiangyu Cong

Xiangyu Cong

The combined impact of internal and external motives was investigated among more than 10,000 people admitted to the United States Military Academy (“West Point”) by Yale’s Amy Wrzesniewski, Xiangyu Cong, Michael Kane, Audrey Omar, and Thomas Kolditz, with Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore.

Michael John Kane

Michael John Kane

Wrzesniewski’s team considered the long-term impact of holding both intrinsic motives (desire to serve and protect citizens) and extrinsic motives (have a respected career) for attending West Point cadets on:

  • Promotion to whether commissioned officer rank,
  • Extending officer service beyond the minimum required period of 5 years,
  • Selection for early career promotions.
Audrey Omar

Audrey Omar

Cadets who were intrinsically motivated were more likely to accomplish these goals, but if they also reported extrinsic motivation, they became less likely to achieve these career distinctions.

Richard Koestner

Richard Koestner

A meta-analytic review of nearly 130 experiments by University of Rochester’s Edward Deci and Richard Ryan with Richard Koestner of McGill confirmed the undermining effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation.

Mark Lepper

Mark Lepper

This effect held with people ranging in age from childhood to adulthood, and noted that people may report less intrinsic motivation when extrinsic rewards are available, a phenomenon called the “overjustification hypothesis”  by Stanford’s Mark Lepper, David Greene, and Richard Nisbett of University of Michigan.

Clark McCauley

Clark McCauley

Wrzesniewski’s previous work with Schwartz, collaborating with Bryn Mawr’s Clark McCauley and Paul Rozin of Penn demonstrated that people view their work as a:

Paul Rozin

Paul Rozin

Many spiritual traditions advocate “purity of intention,” and these results provide empirical support for this long-standing philosophical guidance in relation to finding meaning in work rather than focusing on positive consequences of goal achievement.

Thomas Kolditz

Thomas Kolditz

This is especially relevant because the U.S. Military employs extrinsic motive appeals in marketing messages to recruit cadets, suggesting that military services provides “money for college,” “career training,” and enables members to “see the world.”

However, extrinsic motives tend to be associated with less career recognition and tenure than those who find meaning in the organization’s mission.

-*How do you increase intrinsic motivation when extrinsic motivation may seem more appealing?

-*What elements make your work “a calling”?

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Defining Elusive Elements of “Executive Presence”

Few researchers have investigated behaviors and characteristics associated with “Executive Presence,” although a number of consultants offer recommendations on how to develop this quality thought to be associated with career advancement.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Sylvia Ann Hewlett

A previous blog post identified three characteristics associated with “executive presence” by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, who conducted interviews about this characteristic:  Communication, “Gravitas”, and Appearance.

To further investigate characteristics associated with “executive presence,” independent researchers Gavin Dagle and Cadeyrn J. Gaskin conducted interviews with 34 professionals and uncovered more elements than Hewitt’s proposed triad of qualities.

In addition, they found that most executives described as having “presence” were men, reinforcing Hewitt’s assertion that women interested in career advancement should focus on conveying executive presence attributes to observers.

They identified ten characteristics that include those mentioned by Hewitt.
The first five characteristics are based on first impressions during initial contact:

  • Status and reputation, similar to “gravitas” discussed by Hewitt
  • Physical appearance, also mentioned by Hewitt
  • Confidence
  • Communication ability, included in Hewitt’s “presence” triad
  • Interpersonal engagement skills

The final five attributes derive from evaluations over time during repeated contacts:

  • Interpersonal integrity
  • Values-in-action
  • Intellect and expertise
  • Outcome delivery
  • Coercive power

These qualities combine in different ways to form four presence “archetypes”:

  • Positive presence, based on favorable impressions of confidence, communication, appearance,  and engagement skills plus favorable evaluations of values, intellect, and expertise,
  • Unexpected presence, linked to unfavorable impressions of confidence plus favorable evaluations of intellect, expertise, and values,
  • Unsustainable presence combines favorable impressions of confidence, status, reputation, communication, and engagement skills plus unfavorable evaluations of values and integrity,
  • “Dark presence” is associated with unfavorable perceptions of engagement skills plus unfavorable evaluations of values, integrity, and coercive use of power.
Philippe De Backer

Philippe De Backer

Another typology of executive presence characteristics was identified by Sharon V. Voros and Bain’s Philippe de Backer.
In order of importance, these elements include:

  • Focus on long term, strategic drivers
  • Intellect
  • Charisma, combining confidence, intensity, commitment, plus demeanor of care, concern and interest in others
  • Communication skills
  • Passion
  • Cultural fit
  • Poise
  • Appearance

-*Does “executive presence” actually lead to career advancement?

Most people assume a relationship between “executive presence” and career “success,” even if the causal connection has not been demonstrated.

Fred Luthans

Fred Luthans

However, University of Nebraska’s Fred Luthans and Stuart Rosenkrantz with Richard M. Hodgetts of Florida International University investigated this relationship by observing nearly 300 managers from various levels at large and small mainstream organizations as they:

  • Communicated
  • Engaged in “traditional management” activities, including planning, decision making, controlling
  • Managed human resource issues.
Richard Hodgetts

Richard Hodgetts

Communication and interpersonal skills elements of “presence,” coupled with intentional “networking” and political acumen enabled managers to rapidly advance in their organizations.

Luthans and team identified these managers as “successful” leaders because they advanced more rapidly than “effective” managers, measured by participants’ organizational level compare with their organizational tenure.
In contrast, “effective” managers demonstrated greater managerial skill than “successful” managers, but were not promoted as quickly.

“Effective” managers spent most time managing human resource activities including:

  • Motivating/reinforcing
  • Managing conflict
  • Hiring/staffing
  • Training/developing team members
  • Communicating by exchanging information
  • Processing paperwork.
Stuart Rosenkrantz

Stuart Rosenkrantz

Their subordinates reported more positive attitudes and behaviors than subordinates of “successful” managers for:

  • Job satisfaction
  • Organizational commitment
  • High team performance quality
  • High team performance quantity.

Differences in advancement and subordinate reactions to “successful” and “effective” managers appear related to differing managerial behaviors.

Fred Luthans-Effective Managers“Successful” managers, however, spent little time in managerial activities, but invested more effort in networking, socializing, politicking, and interacting with outsiders.
Their networking activities was most strongly related to career advancement or but was most weakly associated with “effectiveness.”

Few managers were both “successful” and “effective” – about 10% of volunteers were among the top third of both successful managers and effective managers.

Gravitas, communication, and political acumen may explain the gender difference for perceived “executive presence.”
Women who aspire to organizational advancement seem to benefit from cultivating both gravitas and proactive networking to complement communication and interpersonal skills.

-*Which behaviors and characteristics are essential to “Executive Presence”?

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Acknowledge Potential Employer “Concerns” about Gender, Attractiveness to Get Job Offer

Although attractive people enjoy many advantages, as outlined in a previous blog post, attractive women applying for jobs in traditionally male jobs, such as firefighting or engineering, face a double disadvantage: gender and appearance.

Madeline Heilman

Madeline Heilman

The “beauty is beastly effect” is a hiring bias in choosing men or less attractive women for “masculine” jobs, first described by Yale University’s Madeline E. Heilman and Lois R. Saruwatari .

Lois Suruwatari

Lois Suruwatari

They found that attractiveness was an advantage for men seeking both managerial and non-managerial role, but attractive women had an advantage only when seeking lower-level, non-managerial roles.

Michelle Hebl

Michelle Hebl

Attractiveness and gender can be considered a “stigma,” just as disability, obesity, and race, and Rice University’s Michelle R. Hebl and Robert E. Kleck of Dartmouth College reported that members of these groups can reduce hiring biases by acknowledging – even in general terms – their “stigmatizing” characteristic during the interview.

Robert Kleck

Robert Kleck

In addition, women who proactively addressed the employer’s potential concern about gender or appearance in a traditionally male role were rated higher in employment suitability, according to University or Colorado’s Stefanie K. Johnson and Traci Sitzmann, with Anh Thuy Nguyen of Illinois Institute of Technology.

Stefanie Johnson

Stefanie Johnson

Because these candidates assertively anticipated the interviewer’s potential objections, they were also assumed to possess more positive “masculine” traits than other female candidates.
Evaluators were also less likely to penalize these women for displaying “counter-communal” traits, like behaving in contrast to traditional gender role norms.

Traci Sitzmann

Traci Sitzmann

Attractive women’s pre-emptive communication appears to have favorably shaped the rater’s evaluations of employment suitability and buffered the impact of the raters’ acknowledged “hostile sexism” while increasing “benevolent sexism’s” link to employment suitability ratings.

-*How effective you found “pre-emptive objection-handling” in workplace negotiations?

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Women May Undermine Salary Negotiations with Excessive Gratitude

Negotiators and poker players know the value of limiting full self-disclosure in words and non-verbal expressions.

Andreas Leibbrandt

Andreas Leibbrandt

However, some women undermined their salary negotiations by revealing their gratitude for a salary that exceeded their expectations in an experiment by Monash University’s Andreas Leibbrandt and John A. List of the University of Chicago.

John List

John List

Participants were women applying for administrative assistant jobs with a posted wage of $17.60 USD per hour.

Researchers tole some volunteers that the wages were “negotiable,” and these women negotiated their pay upward by a ratio of more than 3 to 1.
This result echoes previous findings that women frequently do not negotiate unless given explicit permission, and consequently, have lower salary offers than those who negotiate.

Leibbrandt and List tested this hypothesis by not mentioning negotiation to the remaining participants, and these women typically provided “too much information” by remarking that the posted wage “exceeds my expectations. I am willing to work for a minimum of $12.”

-*Could this type of comment be “strategic ingratiation” to influence a negotiation partner instead of inexperienced negotiation tactics?

Edward E. Jones

Edward E. Jones

Consider three methods of ingratiation, outlined by Duke University’s Edward E. Jones:

  • Self-presentation (self-enhancement or “one-down” humility, providing favors or gifts),
  • Flattery (“other-enhancement” either directly or ensuring word-or-mouth report of positive yet credible comments),
  • Agreement (opinion-conformity, non-verbal matching-mimicry).

Although the ingratiator’s intent may be to enhance the future working relationship, this approach may be seen as “overselling” after a sales prospect agrees to a deal – and may lead to undoing the proposal.

In this case, the negotiation partner may question the applicant’s judgment, qualifications, and confidence, and may delay salary increases because the candidate appears satisfied with the offer.

Steven H. Appelbaum

Steven H. Appelbaum

When discerningly applied, ‘strategic ingratiation’ in organizations may result in personal rewards including promotion or pay increase, according to Concordia University’s Steven H. Appelbaum and Brent Hughes.

They found that effective use of “strategic ingratiation” was influenced  by situational factors and individual variables including:

  • Machiavellianism,
  • Locus of control,
  • Work task uniqueness.
Jeffrey Flory

Jeffrey Flory

In another of Leibbrandt and List’s randomized field studies, collaborating with Concordia colleague Jeffrey Flory, they found that among nearly of 2,500 job-seekers, men did not wait for permission when no statement was made about salary negotiation, and in fact, male participants said they prefer ambiguous salary negotiation norms.
Despite women’s general hesitance to negotiate without an invitation, women advocated for more favorable salaries at about the same rate as men when they were invited to negotiate.

The team extended these findings by analyzing nearly 7,000 job-seekers with varying compensation plans, and suggested that salary negotiation norms characterize “competitive work settings,” which men prefer but women do not.

Leibbrandt, List and Flory concluded that women accept “competitive” workplaces provided “the job task is female-oriented” and the local labor market leaves few alternatives.

Women looking for better salary outcomes benefit from proposing their “aspirational salaries” rather than waiting for permission to negotiate.
In addition, women negotiators can achieve better outcomes when they are moderate expressions of excessive gratitude and avoid revealing their “reserve” salary figure.

-*In what work situations have you benefitted from applying ‘strategic ingratiation’?

-*To what extent have expressions of gratitude in negotiation undermined bargaining outcomes?

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