Stigma-by-Association: How Follower Characteristics Influence Evaluation of Leaders

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2015)
Article: The Role of Proximal Social Contexts: Assessing Stigma-by-Association Effects on Leader Appraisals
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris


Evaluation of leaders is becoming an increasingly important workplace topic. This is especially so, because some research suggests that racial disparities within the US workforce have increased over the last decade, as some minority groups are greatly underrepresented in positions of management. There may be a number of reasons for this, but new research (Hernandez, Avery, Tonidandel, Hebl, Smith, & McKay, 2015) suggest that one reason could be biased appraisals of leaders (i.e. evaluations of performance, value and competence) that occur due to characteristics of individuals in the group. This means that the racial composition of the leader’s group, influences opinions of that leader’s effectiveness.



The authors conducted a series of studies. The first revealed that when there were more African-American employees in a group, the leaders of these groups received lower appraisal ratings from observers. The subsequent studies confirmed that these social contexts do indeed have a significant effect on observer judgments of group leaders’ value and competence. Lower appraisal ratings were recorded on competence, performance, and value when the group composition was primarily made up of African-American employees.

Interestingly however, this bias was not found when the group was made up of entirely African-American employees, where appraisals were then similar to those of leaders of groups without African-Americans. Overall then, the level of observer appraisal ratings followed a U-shaped pattern when considering the total amount of African-American employees within a work group. Highest scores are predicted when the group is entirely African-American or entirely not African-American.

The study also showed that this unfortunate situation could be positively influenced by the presence of internal and external motivators to control personal bias. Internal motivators refer to a personal level of commitment to controlling bias, and external motivators refer more to outside influences that encourage adherence to fairer standards of appraisal. The results from the research highlight the important role that external motivators can make in reducing the impact of prejudiced evaluation of leaders. This was because external motivation could lower prejudice whether or not the individual had high or low internal motivation to control their prejudices.



These results have implications for the employee selection process. Organizations might want to look for employees who display characteristics associated with a predisposition against prejudice. These personality traits include agreeableness and openness to experience.

In the absence of internal motivation to control personal biases, organizations can protect against the detriments of this “stigma-by-association” through developing new organizational norms and structures, for example, through a hospitable diversity culture that promotes racial equality. Organizations can also reduce intergroup biases by developing an organizational identity that employees can buy into, and that transcends the influence of any particular group. Stronger identification with the organization can be facilitated by rewarding and recognizing the individuals whose efforts and performance enhance the organizational identity.

Organizations can also improve fairness by closely scrutinizing the process used for performance assessments and compensation evaluations. These evaluations should concern specific task examples and should not be based on raters’ general impressions of employees.

How to Conduct a Job Interview: Avoid the Sales Pitch

Publication: Academy of Management Journal
Article: Do Interviewers Sell Themselves Short? The Effect of Selling Orientation on Interviewers’ Judgments
Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten


Hiring professionals may often wonder, what is the best way to conduct a job interview? New research offers an important tip that may make applicant evaluations more accurate. During our first meetings with potential clients, investors, colleagues or romantic partners, our initial impressions and appraisal of their character influence the judgments we make about them. But at the same time we’re evaluating others, we’re often ”selling” ourselves, or making ourselves seem more attractive.

Interviewers work in the same fashion: They ask prospective candidates as many questions as they can about their experiences or employment preferences to evaluate the candidate’s fit against both the requirements of the job and with the existing team. During these interviews, hiring managers also do their best to “sell” the job and the company to interviewees by talking about the perks the company offers and how the candidate would benefit from joining the team.

The current research by Jennifer Carson Marr and Dan M. Cable examines whether the job interviewer’s selling orientation– their motivation to “sell” the job to an applicant– ultimately influences the accuracy and validity of his or her subsequent judgments about the applicant.



These researchers designed two studies. In the first study they conducted mock interviews. Participants were assigned to one of two groups– interviewer or applicant– and interviewers were assigned to have either a high or low selling orientation condition.

The researchers then examined the relationship between the interviewers’ selling orientation and their accuracy in evaluating the applicants’ ratings of core self-evaluation. A person’s core self-evaluation is the appraisal of their own self worth, which includes measures of self-esteem, self-efficacy, locus of control and emotional stability.

The researchers found that those interviewers with a high selling orientation condition were less accurate in their evaluation of applicants’ core self-evaluations than those in the low selling orientation condition.



In their second study, the researchers used field studies to further understand how selling orientation influences the validity of interviewer judgments with regards to those applicants’ future success.

Participants in the first sample were interviewers interviewing aspiring MBA candidates for admission into MBA programs. Participants in the second sample were interviewers tasked with matching international teachers to various school districts in the United States.

The researchers found that, as the interviewers’ motivation to “sell” to job applicants increased, their accuracy in predicting the future success of these interviewees decreased.



The results of these studies have several important implications for HR professionals. The most significant of these is that formally separating the applicant attraction and evaluation processes may help interviewers make better selection decisions. This, ultimately, may lead to a stronger and more productive workforce.

Personal Influence at Work

Publication: Research in Organizational Behaviour (2013)
Article: Underestimating Our Influence Over Others at Work
Reviewed by: Arlene Coelho

Research so far has concentrated on the existence of various influences that impact an individual in the workplace. To name a few: power, motivation, leadership, managers and even peers are known to have a substantial influence on employees. The current paper however, focuses on a new dimension of influence at work – ‘the self’. Authors V. K. Bohns and F. J. Flynn suggest that few individuals realize how much they influence their subordinates, fellow colleagues, and even supervisors. This has serious organizational implications.

Drawing on existing literature, the ‘overestimation theory’ suggests that certain people are not only aware of the influence they have on others, but in fact they tend to overestimate it. This behavior is often seen in individuals who hold high positions and whose influence is based on their authority in the formal structure of an organization. This overestimation appears to occur primarily to boost self-esteem. People need to feel influential; so they overestimate their influence on others. However, there also exists the ‘underestimation theory,’ which suggests that individuals discount the influence they have on others socially, and therefore underestimate how strongly others’ behaviors and attitudes are related to their own behavior. In social environments with lots of interpersonal interaction, people tend to underestimate, rather than overestimate, the influence they have on others. A corporate environment is one such example. Think of how employees in lower ranks of the organization influence higher ups merely by conforming to a manager’s leadership style. Yet, both parties remain largely unaware of the fact that this bottom-up influence occurs.

In an office environment people look to peers or colleagues for cues on how to behave and fit in. If an employee is too shy or embarrassed to ask a question, they look for an answer in the behaviors of their peers. Thus colleagues influence each other yet are completely unaware of it. Likewise managers influence employees’ personal lives, when they expect employees to work late or keep demanding work hours, infringing on family time. Based on expectations and experiences subordinates too, influence their managers’ style of leading. Thus, there appears to be a criss-cross of influence at work. Research, however, points out that, as individuals, we are not completely aware of the extent to which we influence others within this social setup.

The current paper suggests three consequences of being unaware of the influence we have on others at work:

  1. Organizational Change: If individuals continually underestimate their influence on others, they are less likely to feel empowered enough to catalyze change within an organization.

  3. Performance Appraisal: An employee’s performance should be judged relative to their manager’s behavior, in addition to other criteria. An employee’s performance can largely depend on their manager’s attitudes and values. If an evaluator is unaware of the effects of that influence, this important aspect can easily be misinterpreted.

  5. Whistle-Blowing: Individuals who underestimate their influence on others will not blow the whistle on dangerous or unethical activities. Employees who believe they can trigger real change are more likely to point out illegal or unproductive actions when they see them occur.

Being aware of the influence we have on those around us greatly helps both the organization and the individual, allowing us to become more confident about leading change and more likely to stand up for what we believe in, regardless of our position in an organization’s hierarchy.

Explaining Unethical Decision Making: The Problem with Tunnel-Vision

Topic: Ethics, Judgement
Publication: Judgment and Decision Making
Article: Is that the answer you had in mind? The effect of perspective on unethical
Authors: Schurr, A., Ritov, I., Kareev, Y., and Avrahami, J.
Reviewer: Neil Morelli

When someone makes a “bad” or unethical decision inside or outside the workplace, we oftentimes ask the question: why? Perhaps answering this question is important because it helps us make sense of the behavior, as well as helping us prevent it from happening again in the future.

Schurr and colleagues recently sought an answer to the question, “Why?”, when explaining unethical behavior. They proposed that people make unethical decisions because of how those decisions are framed. In other words, an individual’s perspective of a decision can be either narrow or broad; narrow being that a decision or sequence of decisions are considered in isolation, broad being that a decision or set of decisions is framed in a broader context in that the aggregate consequences of the decision(s) are considered.

To test this idea, the authors had students face an ethical dilemma by giving them an
opportunity to be rewarded for cheating at a trivia game. This was measured by asking the students to participate in a practice round, then allowing them to self-score their answers in a monetarily incentivized “real” round. The researchers found that those in the “narrow” condition (students asked to move straight from the practice round to real round) were more likely to cheat than those in the broad condition (students asked to plan which questions they would see
in advance). In a follow-up experiment where no monetary incentive was involved, the level of cheating dropped off significantly.

These results demonstrate that when there is incentive to do so, and a person is applying tunnel-vision to their decision making, the chances for unethical decisions increase. Said a different way, when choices are made sequentially, in isolation, versus when they are planned ahead and considered to be an aggregate choice, the chances for unethical behavior increases.

The authors warn that this study shows that the guardrails for “acceptable” behavior can move depending on a person’s perspective. But, when a person considers his/her decision or set of decisions more broadly (i.e., the greater consequences of the decision and how it affects a larger context), those guardrails stand out more saliently and are harder to “reset”. Thus, by helping people think more broadly about how their decisions connect to the larger world, organizations, leaders, and trainers can feel better that the decisions being made are more ethical.

Schurr, A., Ritov, I., Kareev, Y., & Avrahami, J. (2012). Is that the answer you had in mind? The effect of perspective on unethical behavior. Judgment and Decision Making, 7(6), 679-688.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management



source for picture:


A Fresh Look at Strategy

Topic: Decision Making, Judgement
Publication: Harvard Business Review (MAR 2010)
Article: Finding your strategy in the new landscape
Authors: P. Ghemawat
Reviewed By: Liz Brashier


In light of the continuing recession – an aftermath of the still recent 2008 crash – it seems appropriate to discuss corporate strategy. Companies have a lot to prepare for, rather than look forward to, in the coming decade. Some will react to weak growth and rising capital by retreating to the home market, using the word “global” to reference “economic slowdown” rather than true globalization. This reaction, however, could be a poor decision for firms that are based outside of the developed world. With low per capita incomes in developing countries, there is room for significant growth. Regardless of company location, it is imperative for managers to reevaluate strategy if they are to pursue a global strategy.

The first element of the global strategy described in Pankaj Ghemawat’s article is competition. While views on global strategies have centered around an idea of integrating markets, a shift to managing differences and adapting to local conditions is key. Resource allocation processes must change; companies cannot afford to invest in long-term payoffs on investments, and need to be more selective in making investments.

The second element is markets and products. A shift in customer targeting would allow companies to reach a broader market, and move to an economy that was previously unreached (i.e., moving a company that typically markets to the suburbs into urban areas could prove successful in expanding customer base).


Do Optimistic Predictions Lead to Quicker Completion Times?

Topic: Goals, Job Performance, Judgment
Publication: Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (JAN 2010)
Article: Finishing on time: When do predictions influence completion times?
Authors: R. Buehler, J. Peetz, and D. Griffin
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

Past research has shown that human beings often underestimate the amount of time necessary for task completion (“I can finish this project by…”). This optimistic bias has been consistently demonstrated in many work-related settings and most of the research has focused on why this happens. However, a recent series of studies by Buehler, Peetz and Griffin (2010) investigated whether optimistic prediction times have the ability to improve actual completion times and if so, for what kinds of tasks?

Buehler et al. found that optimistic completion time predictions can have a positive impact on actual completion times, but it depends largely on the type of task/project. For instance, the effect of optimistic predictions on completion times appears to be more favorable when tasks can be completed in a single session (e.g., short computer tutorial, writing a memo) vs. when tasks require multiple steps to be completed at different time points (e.g., launching an employee engagement survey, filing a federal tax return – ugh!).

Interestingly, Buehler et al. also found that the tendency to underestimate completion times was more prevalent for tasks that require multiple sessions.

Ultimately, Buehler et al. concluded that optimistic completion time predictions can be useful for tasks/projects that require one shot. However, optimistic completion time predictions appear to have little power for tasks that require multiple sessions over multiple time points. Additionally, although predictions don’t always have a positive impact on completion times, they do to have a positive influence on task/project start times. Thus, Buehler and colleagues conclude that completion time predictions initiate action early on, but apparently lose their power over time, especially for longer tasks/projects that require many sessions or steps.

Buehler, R., Peetz, J., & Griffin, D. (2010). Finishing on time: When do predictions influence completion times? Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 111, 23-32.

I Think, Therefore You Act

Topic: Decision MakingJudgement
Publication: Academy of Management Journal
Article: Cognition, capabilities, and incentives: Assessing firm response to the fiber-optic revolution.
Blogger: Katie Bachman

Well, it’s sometimes good to confirm what we already know (lucky for this article).  In this case the
learning is that he (or she) who is in charge makes the rules.  Looking at CEOs from 71 communications
firms, Kaplan makes a link between the interest of these CEOs in new technology, and the likelihood of putting the new technology into place. Add to that a couple of mundane (and as one I/O AT WORK reviewer commented, obvious) hypotheses that firms with experience in the new technology will be more likely to adopt it and that positive incentives are important.  Any kid who has ever sold lemonade knows that to be successful you need a willing market and the ability to actually make lemonade (or at least know where to buy it).  The force that could keep this article from collapsing in on itself is around the interactions between CEOs and investment moderated by incentives and experience, but instead the author flopped around a little before proposing competing hypotheses.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for exploration, but saying that it could be a positive or negative relationship is about as useful a hypothesis as saying it might rain or it might be sunny today.

We get all the information available, but not in a way that we can plan on.  It’s just a really nice and easy way of hedging your bets so that if you get results, you’ll be right!  In the end the author was indeed correct; CEO attention to technology did shape the likelihood of adopting the technology along with experience and incentive to adopt the technology.  At the risk of sounding as trite as some aspects of this article, the take- home message is to look at all aspects of the organization when it comes to interpreting business moves.  Buy-in from a top-level manager will have an effect on investment independent of market forces and organizational experience.

Kaplan, A. (2008). Cognition, capabilities, and incentives: Assessing firm response to the fiber-optic revolution. Academy of Management Journal, 51(4), 672-695.

Watch Your Head! Ceteris Paribus is Falling!

Topic: Decision MakingJudgement
Publication: Academy of Management
Article: Resolving the commitment versus flexibility tradeoff: The role of resource accumulation lags.
Blogger: Katie Bachman

Ceteris paribus—all else equal—is the economist’s favorite term. It covers all manner of sins because, as we know in psychology, nothing is ever equal or same or whatever. It is the assumption of no variance and it is the mark of an economics article, which is what I have to share with you today. When I first read the title of the article, “Resolving the Commitment Versus Flexibility Tradeoff…,” I was hoping for a spiffy little article on personality traits perhaps, or maybe managerial interventions. Instead, I read a paper on the economic principles of uncertainty and resource accumulation.

Don’t get me wrong, as a former economics major, I was thrilled, but as a person writing for a psychology blog, I was a bit put out.  I think the bottom line of the article applies to us psychologists anyway, so I will share what for you would be a very dull piece of research. Through empirical data from 1979-1995, the researchers found that in any investment situation, financial in this case, if there is a little bit of lag between investment and payoff, people will be more likely to invest.

However, if the lag time becomes too great, people pull back.  Interestingly, if there is greater uncertainty about future rewards, people are willing to put up with more of a lag than when payoff is
certain.  In all cases, this probability of investment/time-lag relationship is curved.  Perhaps we’re all gamblers at heart, but this article does a really nice job of explaining why people, particularly
those in capital-heavy fields, invest even when the outcome is unclear.  Ceteris paribus, people like a little risk in their lives.

Pacheco-de-Almeida, G., Henderson, J. E., & Cool, K. O. (2008). Resolving the commitment versus flexibility tradeoff: The role of resource accumulation lags. Academy of Management Journal, 51(3), 517-536.