Tag Archives: cooperation

Attractive Men May Appear More Competent, But May Not Be Hired

Sun Young Lee

Sun Young Lee

Previous blog posts have noted bias in favor of attractive people for hiring and venture funding decisions, as well as for positive impression formation by others.

As a result, less attractive yet capable individuals may face “workplace attractiveness discrimination,” according to Sun Young Lee of University College London, University of Maryland’s Marko Pitesa, Madan Pillutla of London Business School, and INSEAD’s Stefan Thau.

Marko Pitesa

Marko Pitesa

Their four studies found that people making employment decisions show systematic selection bias based on perceived attractiveness and organizational context.

Lee’s team drew on two theories to explain differential impact of attractiveness in employment and work task situation: Status generalization and interpersonal interdependence.

Murray Webster

Murray Webster

Status generalization describes how unrelated characteristics like gender, ethnicity, national origin and attractiveness, become relevant to task performance when observers associate these characteristics with behavioral expectations for performance.
These associations often occur without conscious, logical or evidential basis, and lead to group inequalities, according to University of South Carolina’s Murray Webster and Martha Foschi.

James Driskell

James Driskell

Separately, Webster and University of South Carolina colleague James Driskell demonstrated that status characteristics significantly affect face-to-face interactions.
The researchers made physical status characteristics salient in group tasks.
In this condition, participants with preferred characteristics were more likely to be rewarded with power and prestige, even when these physical status characteristics were irrelevant to the task.

Martha Foschi

Martha Foschi

As a result, people with relevant skills may be overlooked in favor of individuals with perceived high status characteristics.
More specifically, Lee’s team suspected that decision makers associate attractiveness with competence in male but not in female candidates based on  status generalization theory.

Harold Kelley

Harold Kelley

They suggested that people’s expectations of interpersonal relationships affect their attempts to maximize relational rewards and minimize accompanying costs, based on interdependence theory. Proposed by UCLA’s Harold Kelley and John Thibaut of University of North Carolina, interdependence theory proposed that people who are interdependent in cooperative or competitive situations discriminate differently based on perceived attractiveness.

John Thibault

John Thibault

To evaluate this notion, Lee’s group assigned male and female volunteers to simulated employment selection situations  in which team members interviewed and provided hiring recommendations for job candidates.
In this situation, interviewers were in both cooperative and competitive situations with these candidates because they would be cooperating for shared team rewards yet competing for recognition, promotions, commissions, and bonuses.

Participants read a hiring scenario describing different types of interdependencies between themselves as decision-makers and the person to be hired, including competitive, cooperative, and no interdependence.

Madan Pillutla

Madan Pillutla

Volunteers evaluated two similar resumes accompanied by photos of an “attractive” applicant and an “unattractive” candidate.
Assessors answered questions about the person’s competence, likely impact on their own success, and their likelihood of recommending the candidate for the position.

When the decision-maker expected to cooperate with the candidate, male candidates perceived as more attractive were also judged as more competent, more likely to enable the evaluator’s career success, and were more frequently recommended for employment.

Stefan Thau

Stefan Thau

However, when decision makers expected to compete with the candidate, they perceived attractive male candidates as less capable.
Evaluators less frequently recommended attractive male candidates for employment, suggesting a systematic bias to preserve the evaluator’s place in the current workplace skill hierarchy.
Attractive and unattractive female candidates were judged as equally competent, but attractive male candidates were rated as much more competent than unattractive male candidates.

Three subsequent studies provided evaluators with candidates’ age, race, education and a manipulated headshot to consider in selecting their competitor or collaborator in a tournament task.
Decision-makers generally preferred attractive male or female candidates unless their personal outcomes were affected by the selection decision.

These studies suggest that attractiveness discrimination is “calculated self-interested behavior” in which men sometimes discriminate in favor and sometimes against attractive males.

-*How do you align with “calculated self-interest behavior” to mitigate bias?

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Cooperative Instinct, Reflective Self-Interest

David Rand

Harvard scientists, led by postdoctoral researcher David Rand found that volunteers who were asked to contribute to the greater good at their own expense at first tended toward generous and cooperative behavior, but upon reflection, they chose self-interest.
Evolutionary biologist Martin Nowak and psychology professor Joshua Greene collaborated with Rand in the study published in Nature .

Martin Nowak

Rand, Nowak, and Greene gave money to volunteers for use in games where they could earn more, depending on choices about cooperating with others.

The team found that people acted most generously when they made immediate decisions about how much to contribute, or were asked to report a time when their intuitions and emotions guided them to a good decision.

When volunteers took more time to consider decisions, or were asked to remember a time they benefitted because rational thinking or when an emotional response led them to an adverse decision, they contributed less to the common pool of money.

Joshua Greene

In one situation, four participants were given 40 cents each and told that they could contribute as much money as desired to the common pool, which would be doubled and then divided equally among the four people.

People decided most quickly on their contribution strategy were more willing to contribute than those who considered the choice for more than 10 seconds.

When researchers forced some volunteers to decide a strategy rapidly and others to wait at least 10 seconds before deciding, they again observed that those who decided most quickly contributed most.

Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel laureate and author of the book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, which examines the two cognitive systems and the role they play in decision-making.

The researchers suggest that people’s intuitive responses are associated with what they have learned to benefit them, through experiences in various situations.

They asked participants if their everyday interactions with others were typically cooperative or uncooperative.
Those who reported having mainly cooperative interactions made quick decisions to contribute more and gave less when they had more time to ponder the scenario.
In contrast, those who reported uncooperative interactions in daily life gave the same amount when they made fast vs more deliberate decisions.

These studies could suggest policies or incentives to encourage desired behavior.
One complication that researchers consider is that a monetary reward or a fine is introduced, people may begin to ignore their first response and weigh the costs and benefits.
This delay can lead to people acting more in self-interest, and less for the common good.

An example of this paradox is seen in a study of Israeli day care programs.
Monetary fines were levied when parents picked up their children late, and the number of parents who arrived late increased rather than decreased.

This finding is consistent with punishment’s lower efficacy in motivating behavior.

-*In which work situations do you favor cooperation with colleagues?
-*When do you find that “enlightened self-interest” is the more prudent approach at work?

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