Dynamics in Judgment and Authority May 2017
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Humans are inexorably enmeshed in complex status and power dynamics. This Signal of Change looks at influences on judgment and authority, highlighting dynamics that can have positive and negative consequences for individuals and society. Such insights directly translate to organizational dynamics that have important implications for human resources.
Young children can develop negative biases against individuals and groups simply from short exposure to nonverbal signals from biased adults.
Researchers from the University of Washington (Seattle, Washington) and the University of Virginia (Charlottesville, Virginia) recently used archival records of court rulings to determine that judges who are experiencing sleep deprivation after the implementation of daylight saving time (in spring) give harsher sentences than do judges who are less sleep deprived. Daylight saving time served as a natural experimental manipulation of sleep deprivation for the study. The researchers found that the sentences judges handed out on the Monday after the implementation of daylight saving time were on average 5% longer than those that judges handed out on any other Monday when courts were in session. Similarly, in 2011, researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (Beersheba, Israel) and Columbia University (New York, New York) published a paper about their analysis of rulings by eight Israeli judges during a ten-month period. During this period, the judges delivered rulings on more than 1,000 applications that prisoners made to parole boards to request parole or changes to their incarceration conditions. The researchers found that judges became less favorable toward applicants as the day wore on. At the beginning of each day, judges approved about two-thirds of applications, but they approved fewer and fewer applications as time went on. After the judges took a break, they began approving a greater number of applications again, but by the end of the day, the likelihood that a judge would approve an application was negligible. The researchers suggest that because making a large number of decisions requires substantial mental effort, people who must make many decisions eventually become tired and look for easy answers. For the judges, arriving at a decision that is unfavorable to the prisoner took less time than did arriving at a decision that is favorable to the prisoner. In addition, the written verdicts for favorable rulings were longer than were written verdicts for unfavorable rulings. These findings indicate a need for measures to prevent mental fatigue from having an effect on legal judgments.
An important question about the dynamics of rejection in a society is how such dynamics emerge in the first place. Partisanship can result in selective perception and cause two people to perceive the same event (for example, a presidential debate) in completely different ways. In a recent study, New York University (New York, New York) assistant professor of social psychology Jay Van Bavel and colleagues from other institutions demonstrated that strong group identity changes the way people perceive the world, even effecting senses such as taste, sight, and smell. For example, when the researchers reminded Swiss citizens about their national identity, the Swiss citizens preferred the smell of Swiss chocolate over the smell of non-Swiss chocolate but showed no preference for Swiss popcorn over non-Swiss popcorn. Swiss chocolate is a source of national pride and therefore became the source of preferential perception among the Swiss citizens. In contrast, popcorn has no Swiss association and therefore did not alter the perception of the Swiss citizens. Dr. Van Bavel suggests that basing opinions on facts can help people counteract such distorted perceptions.
Using facts to form opinions may not always be a simple solution for preventing distorted perceptions. For example, researchers from the University of Washington recently showed that young children can develop negative biases against individuals and groups simply from short exposure to nonverbal signals from biased adults. During the studies, groups of 4- and 5-year-old children watched a video in which two actors displayed positive nonverbal signals to one actor and negative nonverbal signals to another actor. The researchers then asked the children questions to determine whether they favored the actor who received positive nonverbal signals or the actor who received negative nonverbal signals. Nearly 70% of the children favored the actor who received positive nonverbal signals. During a variation of this study, the researchers asked a group of children to watch the video and then introduced the children to people they said were the best friends of the recipients of nonverbal behavior from the video. A series of questions determined that the children favored the best friend of the actor who received positive nonverbal signals over the best friend of the actor who received negative nonverbal signals. According to the researchers, the results of these studies suggest that preschool-age children can pick up biases from adults' tones of voice, facial expressions, and body postures and that these biases can extend beyond a single person to the people in groups that the single person is connected with. Because people act without conscious awareness, even positive words may indicate bias and transmit negative meanings if paired with contradictory nonverbal cues.
Unconscious emotions may also drive management practices in organizations. Using correlational data about managers and a manipulation of feelings of power, researchers from the University of California, Riverside (Riverside, California), and George Washington University (Washington, DC) found that people who feel powerful in management positions are more willing to delegate responsibility to others than are people who feel powerless in management positions and that managers who feel powerless can easily become micromanagers. Micromanagement can occur even among people who are in powerful leadership positions because a person's being in a position of power does not necessarily mean that the person feels powerful. Insecurity can make managers feel a sense of additional loss of control when they delegate tasks to others. The researchers highlight that relatively little research has examined the dynamics that give rise to micromanagement. Such research seems important because of shifts in corporate culture that have resulted in companies' giving employees greater responsibility for time management and permitting employees to telecommute and self-organize into small teams. Employees who feel micromanaged can frequently lose motivation, so gaining a better understanding of how power, status, and psychology interact to create potentially toxic work environments can help organizations avoid this and other pitfalls.