Tag Archives: expectancy

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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Positive Thinking, Mental Contrasting Plus WOOP to Improve Performance

Gabriele Oettingen

Gabriele Oettingen

Positive thinking without implementation strategies is wishful thinking.

It that may lead to complacence and poor performance, found NYU’s Gabriele Oettingen.
As an alternative, she advocates coupling an optimistic outlook with considering obstacles and potential ways to manage them, using a mnemonic WOOP:

  • Wish,
  • Outcome,
  • Obstacle,
  • Plan.
Andreas Kappes

Andreas Kappes

To mitigate reduced motivation triggered by wishful thinking, Oettingen and University of London colleague Andreas Kappas taught volunteers a “Mental Contrast” process.
This approach considers potential obstacles to desired future outcomes, and identifies ways to manage these challenges.

The team differentiated Mental Contrast from two less effective approaches to goal engagement:

  • Indulging by mentally elaborating only the desired future state,
  • Dwelling by mentally elaborating only the present reality.

These practices lead to less strong goal commitment than Mental Contrast, even when chances of success are good across interpersonal relations, academic achievement, professional achievement, health, life management experiences.

Mental Contrast was an effective self-regulatory technique when coupled with Implementation Intentions (MCII) to improve achievement, interpersonal, and health habits.

These trends changed when perceived chances of success were low:  Mentally Contrasting a desired future with present reality led to disengagement from goals.
However, Indulging in the future goal fantasy or Dwelling only in the present reality both maintained goal commitment.

Probability of Success-Mental Contrast-Indulve-Dwelling

In another study, volunteers who spent more time imagining working in a “dream job,” but who also had lower expectations of achieving this goal, received fewer job offers and lower starting salaries, found Oettingen and Doris Mayer of University of Hamburg.

They differentiated the motivational impact of:

  • Positive expectations for future success, which predicted high effort and successful performance,
  • Positive fantasies, which didn’t increase effort.

Mental Contrasting helped people disengage from unfeasible goals like rehabilitating an ended relationship or achieving an unattainable professional identity.
When chances of success are low, people Mentally Contrast desired future with present reality to move on to more feasible goals.

Similarly, Mental Contrasting linked negative thoughts about an undesirable future situation to avoidance goals when there’s a high probability of avoiding the undesired future.
This strategy can be useful for people with difficulty generating positive fantasies about future health status or reducing prejudice toward members of a minority or “out-group.”

When facing controllable and escapable tasks, people benefitted from Mentally Contrasting fantasy with reality.
However, when facing tasks that cannot be mastered such as terminal illness, Indulging in positive fantasies enabled people to maintain a positive outlook.

Volunteers who held a “silver lining theory” that a negative personal attribute is associated with a positive attribute, increased effortful performance toward the positive attribute when informed that:

  • They were impulsive,
  • The silver lining theory states that “impulsivity is associated with creativity.”
Timur Sevincer

Timur Sevincer

These on-line and in-person participants showed greater effort-based creativity than those who were given no information or for whom the silver lining theory was refuted.

The Silver Lining Theory increased performance and enabled people to mitigate a perceived negative attributes.
They did this by promoting effortful behavior toward a positive attribute linked to the negative attribute.

Mentally Contrasting a desired future (such as excelling in an intelligence test and writing an essay) with a present reality increased physiological energization measured by systolic blood pressure and grip strength to the degree a person expected to attain the desired future.

Mental contrasting may trigger energy activation that fuels effort to perform an unrelated task, concluded University of Hamburg’s A. Timur Sevincer and P. Daniel Busatta collaborating with Oettingen.

Philip Daniel Busatta

Philip Daniel Busatta

Coupling Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions (MCII) helped economically-disadvantaged children convert positive thoughts about future outcomes into effective action, found University of Pennsylvania’s Angela Lee Duckworth, Teri A. Kirby of University of Washington with NYU’s Anton Gollwitzer and and Oettingen.

Teri Kirby

Teri Kirby

Student volunteers learned to compare a desired future with potential obstacles, then developed if–then implementation intentions to potential outcomes.

More than 75 U.S. urban middle school 10 year olds were randomly assigned to learn either MCII or a Positive Thinking strategy as a control comparison.

Those who applied MCII tools to their academic goals significantly improved their report card grades, attendance, and conduct, suggesting the value of Mental Contrasting to enhance goal commitment and realization.

Mental Contrasting can be a powerful tool to increase motivation, particularly when coupled with Implementation Intentions.
The exception to this trend occurs when the probability of successfully achieving goals is low.
In those cases, Indulging or Dwelling strategies are more effective in maintaining goal motivation.

  • How have you seen Mental Contrasting and considering your probability of success to manage your motivation and performance?

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Least Skillful Performers May Have Greatest Self-Delusions of Skill: Pointy-Haired Boss Effect

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

The Foole doth thinke he is wise, but the wiseman knowes himselfe to be a Foole,” wrote  William Shakespeare in As You Like It.
Charles Darwin’ decoded this observation with his update: “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

Both view are applicable to the workplace and notoriously “clueless” players like Dilbert’s Pointy Haired Boss.

Pointy Haired Boss

Pointy Haired Boss

Incompetent performance often results from ignorance of performance standards in both cognitive skills and physical skills, found Columbia’s David Dunning and Justin Kruger of NYU in a series of experiments.

David Dunning

David Dunning

Volunteers performed humor, grammar, and logic tasks, then viewed their performance scores and again estimated their performance rank.
Competent individuals accurately estimated their rank, whereas incompetent individuals overestimated their ranks despite actual feedback.

Dunning and Kruger posited that incompetent people:

  •          Overestimate their skill levels,
  •          Overlook other people’s skills,
  •          Underestimate their lack of skill in relation to performance standards.
Justin Kruger

Justin Kruger

However, training may reverse this “insight blindness.”
Low-skill individuals in some cases can benefit from corrective feedback and recognize their original lack of skill after they participate in skill training.

The Dunning–Kruger effect describes unskilled individuals’ sense of “illusory superiority,” when they rate their ability as much higher than average although it is actually much lower than average.
In contrast, highly competent individuals miscalibrate other’s performance.

Joyce Ehrlinger

Joyce Ehrlinger

Kerri Johnson

Kerri Johnson

These observations were validated by Washington State University’s Joyce Ehrlinger, Kerri Johnson of UCLA, and Cornell’s Matthew Banner.

People also demonstrate “illusory superiority” when they estimate their ability to identify deception and to infer intentions and emotions (interpersonal sensitivity),  found Columbia’s Daniel R. Ames and Lara K. Kammrath of Wilfrid Laurier University.

Daniel Ames

Daniel Ames

Their results replicated previous findings that most people overestimate their social judgment and mind-reading skills, and showed that people who demonstrate least accurate social judgment and “mind-reading” significantly overestimate their relative competence.

Lara Kamrath

Lara Kamrath

Ames and Kammrath suggested that these inaccurate self-assessments are based “in general narcissistic tendencies toward self-aggrandizement.”

Different tasks elicit differing degrees of the illusory superiority bias, according to University of Michigan’s Katherine A. Burson, Richard P. Larrick of Duke University, University of Chicago’s Joshua Klayman.

Katherine Burson

Katherine Burson

When performing moderately difficult tasks, best and worst performers provided similarly accurate estimates of their skills.
However, when they performed more difficult tasks, best performers provided less accurate skill estimates than worst performers.

Richard Larrick

Richard Larrick

Burson and team proposed that “noise-plus-bias” explains erroneous judgments of personal skill across competence levels.

Dunning and Ehrlinger showed that people’s views of themselves and their skill change when influenced by external cues.
They note that this effect can limit women’s participation in STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).

Joshua Klayman

Joshua Klayman

The team found that women performed equally to men on a science quiz, yet participants underestimated their performance because they assigned low judgments to their general scientific reasoning ability.
This inaccurate underestimate of abilities can dissuade many women from entering STEM careers.

The Dunning–Kruger effect may be culturally limited because one study found that East Asians tend to underestimate their abilities due to norms of humility, and see underachievement as a chance to improve themselves and cooperate with others.

-*How do you mitigate overestimate and underestimates of your skill performance?
-*Where have you seen inaccurate performance estimate affect long-range career achievement?

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Power, Confidence Enhance Performance Under Pressure    

Sonia K. Kang

Sonia K. Kang

Role-based power can affect performance in pressure-filled situations, but has less impact on lower pressure environments, according to University of Toronto’s Sonia K. Kang, Adam D. Galinsky of Columbia University, University of California, Berkeley’s Laura J. Kray and Aiwa Shirako of Google.

Kang’s team assigned more than 130 volunteers to same-gender pairs in three negotiations experiments.
Half the participants acted as a “recruiter” (high-power role) or as a “job candidate” (low-power role) in negotiating salary, vacation time, and related benefits.

Adam Galinsky

Adam Galinsky

Volunteers were told that performance either reflected negotiation ability or was unrelated to ability.
Participants in high power roles tended to perform better under pressure when they were told their negotiation performance was an accurate reflection of ability.
Kang attributed this result to participants’ higher expectations for success based on the higher power role.

Job candidates who thought their negotiation performance indicated their skill level performed significantly worse than those who thought that the exercise was a learning experience unrelated to their negotiating capabilities.

Claude Steele

Claude Steele

Results were similar to Claude Steele of Stanford’s findings for stereotype threat and stereotype uplift, in which individuals from marginalized groups perform less effectively than members of higher-power groups, linked to negative self-attributions and expectations.
Low-power negotiators counteracted underperformance when they self-affirmed their performance.

Laura Kray

Laura Kray

Kang and team concluded that “relative power can act as either a toxic brew (stereotype/low-power threat) or a beneficial elixir (stereotype/high-power lift) for performance… (because) performance in high pressure situations is closely related to expectations of behavior and outcome… Self-affirmation is a way to neutralize … threat.

Aiwa Shirako

Aiwa Shirako

In another experiment, 60 male MBA students were paired as the “buyer” or “seller” of a biotechnology plant.
The sellers held a more powerful role in this situation, and were more assertive, reflected by negotiating a higher selling price, when they thought performance reflected ability.
In contrast, buyers performed worse when they thought negotiating performance reflected ability.

Kang’s team extended this scenario with 88 MBA students (33 male pairs and 11 female pairs), who were told the exercise would gauge their negotiating skills.
Before the negotiation, half of the participants wrote for five minutes about their most important negotiating skill, while the remaining half wrote about their least important negotiating skill.

Francesca Gino

Francesca Gino

Buyers who completed the positive self-affirmation performed significantly better in negotiating a lower sale price for the biotechnology plant, effectively reducing the power differences between the buyer and seller.

Based on these findings, Kang, like Harvard’s Francesca Gino, advocates writing self-affirmations rather than simply reflecting on positive self-statements about job skills and positive traits to enhance confidence and performance.

-*How do you mitigate differences in role-based power and confidence when performing under pressure?

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Perceived Personal Power Can Modify Time Perception, Perceived Stress

Alice Moon

Alice Moon

People’s subjective experience of time differ based on individual characteristics, which can influence feelings of control over time and coping with time demands.

Serena Chen

Serena Chen

University of California Berkeley’s Alice Moon and Serena Chen evaluated more than 550 volunteers’ ratings of their perceived personal power and their perspectives on available time to accomplish goals.

Moon and Chen asked more than 100 participants to assume the role of a “manager” while sitting in a “high-power chair,” or the role of an “employee” while both groups rated their perceived personal resources of time and power.
Participants who played the more powerful role of “manager” reported that they had more time than “employee.”

Moon and Chen also primed more than 100 American adults to think of themselves in high-power or low-power positions, and asked them to rate statements about availability of time to achieve goals.

Even when participants did not actually have more available time, those who felt most powerful perceived greater control over their time, and greater time availability.
This is another example of the power of expectation exceeding the importance of an actual resource, competency, or experience.

Mario Weick

Mario Weick

These findings support other reports that managers experience less stress than subordinates in organizations, attributable to their “position power.”

Ana Guinote

Ana Guinote

People who feel powerful tend to hold a significantly optimistic bias when predicting time required to complete task, reported University of Kent’s Mario Weick and Ana Guinote of University College London.

They attributed this unrealistic optimism to
confident belief in personal self-efficacy accompanying subjective feelings of power in their evaluation of:

  • Actual power and time perception,
  • Induced feelings of power through priming,
  • Pre-existing personal self-perceptions.
Priyanka D. Joshi

Priyanka D. Joshi

This “planning fallacy” of underestimating task completion time often results from a narrow focus on the goal, coupled with the optimism bias that obscures potential obstacles and risks.

Nathanael Fast

Nathanael Fast

Likewise, people who feel powerful also tend to feel more confident about the future, more aware of their “future self,” and more willing to wait for longer-term rewards, found University of Southern California ’s Priyanka D. Joshi and Nathanael J. Fast.

Specifically, participants assigned to high-power roles and to power priming instructions were less likely to display temporal discounting, or choosing smaller short-term rewards over larger goals that require a longer waiting period.

This suggests that people who feel powerful have a sense of abundance in other domains, including time and money.
As a result, feeling powerful enables people to forego current rewards, “delay gratification,” and make present investments to achieve potentially larger longer-term pay-offs.

-*How do you increase your personal experience of power and time perspective?

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Multiple Paths Toward Goals Can Motivate, then Derail Success

Szu-Chi Huang

Szu-Chi Huang

Goal motivation changes as people move closer to target, according to Stanford’s Szu-chi Huang and Ying Zhang of University of Texas, who built on Heinz Heckhausen’s Action-Phase Model.

Ying Zhang

Ying Zhang

In the first stages of effort toward a goal, multiple paths toward the goal makes the goal seem attainable, noted Huang and Zhang.

Albert Bandura

Albert Bandura

This perception of “self-efficacy” – belief in their ability to achieve a goal by applying effort and persistence – provides motivation to continue goal striving and reduced emotional arousal according to Stanford’s Albert Bandura.

Clark Hull

Clark Hull

In contrast, when people are close to achieving a goal, a single goal path provides greater motivation, consistent with Clark Hull’s Goal Gradient Theory that motivation increases closer to the goal.

Sheena Iyengar

Sheena Iyengar

A single “route to the finish” reduces “cognitive load” of considering alternate “hows” to reach the goal, noted Huang and Zhang.
Like Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper’s finding that “more choice is not always better” for consumers, too much choice can derail last steps toward a goal.

Peter Gollwitzer

Peter Gollwitzer

These stages of goal pursuit can be characterized by differing mindsets: “Deliberative Mindset” when considering work toward a goal contrasted with “Implemention Mindset” when planning execution steps to achieve a goal, according to NYU’s Peter Gollwitzer, Heinz Heckhausen, and Birgit Steller of University of Heidelberg.

Huang, a former account director at advertising giant JWT, evaluated customer loyalty program behavior toward incentive goals.
In the first of several studies, she issued two versions of an invitation to join a coffee-shop loyalty program.

Half of the participants were given a “quick start” to earning 12 stamps required to earn a free coffee by providing them with the first six when they began.
Of the volunteers who received a “head start” on earning an incentive reward, half had multiple ways to earn additional reward stamps:  Buying coffee, tea or any other drink.
More than 25% of this multi-option/head start group joined the loyalty program.

The other half of the quick start volunteers could earn more stamps in only one way:  Buying a beverage.
In contrast, significantly more of the “head start”/ single option customers joined the loyalty program: 40%

The remaining participants were the comparison group, and received no stamps.
Like the head start group, half these customers could earn more stamps in several ways and 37.5% registered for the loyalty program.
In contrast, the remaining participants had the single option of purchasing more beverages, and registered much less frequently for the loyalty program: 21.6%.

These results show a clear contrast between goal pursuit behaviors when close to a consumer goal, and this premise can be tested with personally-meaningful goals like pursuing fitness, weight reduction, smoking cessation, confident public speaking and other challenges.
In addition to goal proximity, motivation is also determined by

  • Goal value, related to “high level construal,” and “low level construal
  • Expectancy of success, based on probability, difficulty, sufficiency, necessity
Nira Liberman

Nira Liberman

argue Tel Aviv Universitys Nira Liberman and Jens Förster of Jacobs University of Bremen and Universiteit van Amsterdam.
However, Huang and Zhang did not fully assess their participants’ construal level or expectancy of success, leading to further opportunities to test their findings.

Jens Förster

Jens Förster

Related research by Huang and Zhang demonstrated the motivational impact of choice:  They compared the number of yoghurt shop customers who reached the incentive target when participants were required purchase six flavors in a specific order compared with any order they chose.

Volunteers with fewer choices were more likely to achieve the incentive goal, earning a free yoghurt.
People fail to realize that relatively rigid structures can often simplify goal pursuit by removing the need to make choices, especially when people are already well into the process,” explained Huang

This principle may explain dieters’ success in achieving weight loss goals when they follow a specific meal plan, which reduces the “cognitive load” of considering food choices, but which usually leads to regained weight when boredom and “habituation” set in.

Huang pointed to practical implications for marketers and non-profit development executives: Loyalty programs should introduce a tiered processes to earn rewards, with many options for those beginning to accrue credits, and more limited selections for long-term members.

Similarly, she noted that nonprofits may restructure giving options at the end of a fund raising campaign when the financial target is nearly met by reducing the number of ways to donate.
Gyms, as well, can offer many program options at the beginning of each year to attract non-exercisers, and a single different program to relatively fit customers.

Many people have no problem starting a goal, but they often find themselves losing motivation in the middle of the journey,” so Huang is evaluating the potential effectiveness of encouraging those people with “social information,” such as messages about friends’ blood donations, movie ratings, fitness accomplishments, survey completion, and weight loss attainment, for example, to increase goal pursuit.

-*How do you maintain motivation when you are close to achieving a goal?

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Anxiety Undermines Negotiation Performance

Maurice Schweitzer

Maurice Schweitzer

Anxious negotiators make lower first offers, exit earlier, and earn lower profits than less anxious people due to their “low self-efficacy” beliefs, according to Harvard’s Alison Wood Brooks and Maurice E. Schweitzer of University of Pennsylvania,

Alison Wood Brooks

Alison Wood Brooks

Brooks and Schweitzer induced anxious feelings or neutral reactions during continuous “shrinking-pie” negotiation tasks.
Compared with negotiators experiencing neutral feelings, negotiators who feel anxious typically expect to achieve lower profits, present more cautious offers, and respond more cautiously to propositions presented by negotiation counterparts.

Anxious negotiators who achieved poor bargaining outcomes typically did not manage emotions with a cognitive strategies including:

Julie Norem

Julie Norem

  • Strategic optimism, indicated by expecting positive outcomes without anxiety or detailed reflection, according to University of Miami’s Stacie Spencer and Julie Norem of Wellesley
  • Reattribution, identified by considering alternate interpretations of events to increase optimism and self-efficacy beliefs
  • Defensive pessimism, marked by high motivation toward achievement coupled with negative expectations for future challenges, leading to increased effort and preparation, according to Wellesley College’s Julie Norem and Edward Chang of University of Michigan.
Edward Chang

Edward Chang

Norem and Cantor concluded that defensive pessimists performed worse when “encouraged by telling them that that based on their academic performance, they should expect to perform well on anagram and puzzle tasks.

Among university students, defensive pessimism was related to lower self-esteem, self-criticism, pessimism, and discounting previous successful performances when they began university studies, according to Norem and Brown’s Jasmina Burdzovic Andreas.

Jasmina Burdzovic Andreas

Jasmina Burdzovic Andreas

However, their longitudinal study demonstrated that self-esteem increased to almost the same levels as optimists during their four years of university study.
Pessimists’ precautionary countermeasures may have resulted in strong performance, which built credible self-esteem.

In contrast to general pessimism, defensive pessimism is not characterized by an internal, global, and stable attribution style linked to depression and less proactive problem-solving behavior.
Defensive pessimism’s positive performance outcomes suggest that this cognitive strategy is an effective, if uncomfortable, approach to managing anxiety and performance motivation.

-*How do you manage anxiety in high-stakes negotiations?

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