My Ideas are an Extension of Me: Why Individuals Embrace or Resist Feedback (IO Psychology)

Topic:  Decision Making, Change Management
Publication:  Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (MAY 2012)
Article:  Blind in one eye:  How psychological ownership of ideas affects the types of suggestions people adopt
Authors:  M. Baer, G. Brown
Reviewed by:  Kecia Bingham

Remember that time your polite suggestion to your loving partner on how he/she could pare down their “funny story” was met with an exaggerated eye roll? Or perhaps there was a time you suggested to your partner that he/she add a certain ingredient to their signature recipe and to your surprise they did.  This study sought to understand why people at times seem open to feedback, while at other times seem to resist it.  The authors proposed that psychological ownership (feeling a material or non-material object, such as an idea, is yours and is part of your extended self) and the nature of the change attempt determines how people respond to suggestions for change.

While most research focuses on the benefits of psychological ownership and encourages it, results across two studies in this article indicate that ownership can have both positive and negative implications for change.  Specifically, participants who felt strong ownership of their ideas were more likely to adopt additive change (suggestions that built upon his/her idea) and less likely to adopt subtractive change (suggestions that eliminate aspects of his/her idea) compared to those who felt limited ownership of their ideas.  The authors reasoned that additive change builds upon our ideas so people with strong psychological ownership were willing to adopt such changes for personal growth.  In contrast, individuals with limited ownership tend to be less invested in their ideas and would not view additive change as a way of enhancing themselves.  As expected, since subtractive change takes away from what individuals have attached themselves to, people with strong ownership in these situations experienced a greater sense of personal loss compared to participants with limited ownership.  Results also indicated that personal loss was positively related to negative affect (e.g., being upset or frustrated), such that when feelings of personal loss were high, negative affect was also high.  This finding is compelling since participants with high negative affect were less likely to adopt others’ suggestions for change.  In sum, when people with psychological ownership of their ideas were presented with feedback that diminished their ideas, they were more likely to experience a sense of personal loss which then elicited elevated levels of negative emotions and reduced their adoption of subtractive changes.  However, the reverse was true when participants with strong ownership were presented with feedback that enhanced their ideas.

Results imply that individuals with strong psychological ownership may selectively adopt feedback so that they are blind to suggestions that diminish parts of their idea, while being receptive to feedback that builds upon their idea regardless of the quality and usefulness of the feedback.  To encourage collaboration and innovation the authors suggest organizations encourage collective vs. individual ownership of ideas and train employees on how to use techniques that foster a culture of openness and agreement (e.g., agree, accept, and add).

Baer, M., & Brown, G. (2012).  Blind in one eye:  How psychological ownership of ideas affects the types of suggestions people adopt.  Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 118, 60-71.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management


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