Psychology snippets – Four things you’ll be discussing at the water cooler

August 25, 2016

It’s August. You’re probably on holiday or wishing you were. In the press, this is the season where traditionally the quirkier stories get an airing, so I thought I’d do the same here. These are the four most interesting bits of psychological research or thinking that I’ve seen in the last few months:

1. How quickly should you answer emails?

It depends on your status, according to a piece of psychological research. Imagine you’re collaborating on a project and someone asks for ideas. If you don’t have much status in the group, e.g. you’re quite junior or inexperienced, you need to get in quickly, else your ideas will be dismissed. People seem to think you don’t care enough about the project. If you have high status, on the other hand, the longer you leave it, the more seriously people take your ideas. You’re so important that you must be really busy, so when you finally share your wisdom, it must be worth waiting for. Naturally, it doesn’t actually follow that the senior/experienced person’s ideas are any better than the new kid’s, regardless of when they’re delivered, but that’s how we seem to perceive them. No one said life was fair; I’m just the messenger.

2. Three jobs that don’t exist now but will within a decade

You probably won’t have missed the fact that robots are going to take over the workplace, as it’s been all over the papers. robotThe BBC website even features a useful app which will tell you the likelihood of your job being taken over by a robot (bank clerks and chartered accountants might want to consider retraining as speech therapists and psychologists).

But optimists point out that new jobs will emerge that we can’t imagine now. After all, 25 years ago we didn’t know what a web designer or a search engine optimisation specialist was, but now you’re as likely to meet them at a networking event as the more traditional professionals, like lawyers and accountants. So with the introduction of artificial intelligence into the work place, look out for these opportunities:

Robot personality designer – some of the first jobs likely to be taken over by robots are in customer service. They are already being used as hotel receptionists. But if a robot is going to represent a company’s brand, then what sort of personality should it have? Do you want ‘Good afternoon madam’ professionalism or ‘Hi there’ informality? Someone will have to design that.

Morality programmer – how do we ensure that robots will behave in a way that we deem ethically correct? If we violate the norms of society, we can be held to account, up to and including prosecution. But you can’t prosecute a robot, so someone will need to programme in codes of conduct or ensure a way of teaching the robot what is appropriate behaviour (“Save the baby, not the budgie, in an emergency”). Finally, a job crying out for philosophy graduates.

Robot – human facilitator – the future workplace will be all about collaboration between robots and humans. Robot and peopleBut that’s not just going to happen automatically. The technology is moving much more quickly than our ability to keep pace with it psychologically. There will be trust issues and resentment and our trademark British awkwardness – “What’s the etiquette here? Do I shake its hand?” Expect a plethora of training and facilitation consultants to help us get used to working in this brave new world.


3. The subliminal response that predicts your political tendencies.

If you read my Brexit blog, you’ll have come across this already, but I found it so fascinating I thought it worth repeating. Researchers can predict with 95% accuracy where you sit on the liberal-conservative spectrum (on social issues) based how strongly you react to something disgusting, like rotting meat or bodily waste.  The stronger your disgust reflex, the more conservative you tend to be. Liberals are less easily disgusted. Given that your disgust reflex is not really under your conscious control and may be hard-wired, it raises the possibility that your political leanings could have a genetic component. So much for free will.

4. Which is your best side, photographically?

Suppose you’re having a profile photo taken for Linked In or your corporate website, take a tip from a this psychological research and turn your left cheek to the camera. PortraitAs unlikely as it sounds, your left cheek is likely to be more attractive than your right one. We process emotion on the right side of our brains, which controls the left side of bodies, and apparently that means we display ever so slightly more emotion on the left, which people find more attractive. I’m not sure what happens if the emotion you’re displaying is boiling rage or withering contempt, so perhaps it would be best to get into a happy frame of mind before you’re ready for your close up.

Next month, the holidays will be over and it’ll be back to serious work-related stuff, but for now enjoy the tail end of summer.

Photo credits

Lap top: Hillary

Robot: e-lame

Robot and people:  Moto “Club4AG” Miwa

Portrait: Chung Shao Tung

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  1. Lynne Hindmarch September 6, 2016 at 3:44 pm - Reply

    Nice piece Caroline. Both entertaining and informative. Left cheek first in future pics!

    • carolinegourlay September 13, 2016 at 1:04 pm - Reply

      Thanks Lynne. I’m sure you always look lovely in pictures, regardless of which cheek you turn!

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