Business Briefs: Don’t Say Disappointed, Authenticity is Hot & Bad Science Gets Mentions

Welcome to Business Briefs! The world of academic publications features fascinating findings from real-world experiments in business and the marketplace. Here are some key takeaways and applicable nuggets of knowledge that may be helpful for your business.

Feely Feedback

Positive feedback is fun to give: Say nice things, people feel nice, niceness all the way around. 

Negative feedback, on the other hand, is less fun to give and less fun to receive. That’s why it’s usually couched in other terms, like “opportunities for improvement.” Then negative feedback can be ostensibly less negative and more like an opportunity. 

Researchers at Utah State University did a study on how employees react to positive and negative emotional language in feedback. They ran a series of experiments, starting with one where they recruited 178 college students, and had them perform a decoding task. The students were evaluated in terms of productivity. Some were given feedback that included the phrase “I’m very pleased,” some were given feedback that included the phrase “I’m very disappointed,” and some were just given the objective measurement of their performance.

The recipients of “I’m very pleased” did not become more productive than those who were given an objective evaluation. But those who received a “I’m very disappointed” became less productive.  That is to say, there is nothing to be gained by using emotional language (or at least that particular emotional language) in feedback. It just makes things worse. 

The recommendation from the research team? Training for managers on how to limit negative emotional feedback, and how to focus instead on task-related performance. 

Read more here

Feedback with Feeling? How Emotional Language in Feedback Affects Individual Performance – Devon Erickson, D. Kip Holderness Jr.,  Kari Joseph Olsen, and Todd A. Thornock, Accounting, Organizations, & Society

Authentic is Hotter Than Ever

Authentic has been a buzz word long enough to be parodied in popular culture. 

Which is why it may surprising to learn that, in the age of COVID, being authentic is hotter than ever. Researches did a series of five studies involving Google Trends and human subjects and found out that messages of authenticity are super-powered right now…because of the pandemic. 

So first, what sorts of words are good for describing authentic products? Original, credible, truth, real. Google Trends indicates that searches involving those terms increased after the outbreak. 

In the human studies (involving more than 300 adults), the researchers first presented the subjects with an article to read. It was either one with an ominous headline about COVID, or an article about something more milquetoast (sports). After reading the article, the subjects were asked to evaluate a couple of dining destinations: an authentic-sounding restaurant and a more regular pizza joint. In general, the ones who read the ominous COVID article scored the authentic-sounding restaurant more favorably than the subjects who read about sports.

That said, the authenticity draw was strongest for those who experienced a childhood with high socioeconomic status. This aligns with earlier research that suggest that threatening environments affect adults differently, depending on their childhoods. If you grow up in an economically insecure environment, you become an adult with a high tolerance for uncertainty and insecurity.  If you grow up in an economically secure environment, well, then the literature suggests that you prefer to have a little more control over what’s going on around you. 

And you also really like authentic things right now. 

Read more here

The Impact of COVID-19 on Consumer Evaluation of Authentic Advertising Messages – Jooyoung Park et al., Psychology & Marketing

Bad Science Gets the Mentions

Researchers from the Rady School of Management at the University of California San Diego published some unsettling findings about the state of research in business-adjacent publications including economics and psychology.

It turns out that we like bad studies.

That’s an oversimplification of their findings, but a good starting point in an explanation. In research, mentioning prior studies is important. First, because prior work shapes how you create your own projects. Second, because mentioning prior studies supports your professional peers. If you’re a researcher, you want other people to mention your work. That boosts your reputation. All those mentions are called “citations.”

The problem is that the prior studies that are the most mentioned (cited)…those studies tend to be unreplicable. Being unreplicable means the study produced cool results one time, then it crapped out. Between 2015 and 2018, three projects were launched to try to reproduce a slew of results from popular studies. The experiments were successful in getting the promised results about half the time. 

When the mentions of reproducible studies were compared with the mentions of non-reproducible studies, the non-reproducible studies were cited an average of 16 more times per year, and 153 more times over time. 

That is to say, the sketchy research findings get more mentions, while the good stuff rots away unseen.The situation makes a little bit of sense; sensational findings are attention-getting, we like to talk about them.  The problem is…they don’t seem to reflect reality. 

Read more here

Nonreplicable Publications are Cited more than Replicable Ones – Marta Serra-Garcia and Uri Gneezy, Science Advances