What Psychology Experiments Could Tell Leaders about Workplace Leadership

Oct 26 2016, by PEOPLE HRO in News

We all don’t like psychologist every now and then. But there have been many experiments that have helped us change the way the world works. In the last 100 years some of the greatest experiments done in the 20th century could tell us about workplace leadership and what it means to really manage people in the workplace. From Henry Ford came scientific management by putting his workers in small compartments then in later years came the behavioral management which helped leaders understand a workers motivation to succeed.

The Stanford Prison experiment back in the seventies is one of the greatest sociocultural psychology experiments to this date. This experiment taught us about hierarchies and cultural norms that have meaningful impact on prisoners and those in the workplace. Led by Dr. Phillip Zimbardo, the experiment started with groups of students randomly assigned as prison guards and prisoners. The experiment only lasted six days but the data was shocking to discover how much of an impact stereotypes and prejudices have on not just the mock prison, but anywhere in the environment. The moral should be that leaders should always be aware of what they are going to do before anything like superiority can get to their head and make a mess of things. Setting the right culture can ensure productivity and no loss of control.

The Pygmalion experiment was conducted in the sixties by two psychologists in San Francisco. The test revealed that many of the teachers focused more on the academically gifted children than those who were lower in rank. The name of the experiment derives from the sculptor who fell in love with his own creation. Many teachers from the experiment often had the same love affair with their gifted students and the student’s determination to score high on the tests that the psychologist made for their experiment. The students were randomly selected and tested eight months later showing higher results. But it does prove that expectations can influence the performance of an individual. Following this experiment, leaders can motivate workers who may have adequate performance ratings if they are given the right amount of encouragement and motivation. It all has to do with looking outside the narrow view of your workers who may have higher performance ratings.

The Piano staircase experiment was done by Volkswagen and transformed a subway staircase into a musical staircase. In the experiment, commuters had the option of riding the elevator or taking the staircase. The commuters often took the musical staircase because it was fun to step on the piano keys and hear the notes being played as you walked out from the subway. It showed that most people in working environments often enjoyed fun areas. Research from University of Florida shows that environments that are not stressful can reduce any chance of negative performance if the leader has found the right balance of work and play.

Besides the Stanford prison experiment, the Milgram experiment was also infamous in psychological experiments. In Milgram’s experiment, a person on one side of the mirror retracts information by memory, which was often left blacked out. The other side has a lit area with a single person near a voltage machine. No one knew that the darkened side had an actor next to a switchboard. The experiment shows that abandoning moral judgement and personal ethics when you work under a dominant and influential authority figure could lead employers to abandon their own ethics. Leaders must always have awareness of how they can impact the company and the workplace, no matter the situation.

The final psychological experiment is the invisible gorilla experiment. Two Harvard graduates had volunteers sit in a circle and pass a ball between them. Along with passing the ball, the volunteers were also supposed to count. While they count and pass the ball a man with a gorilla suit would enter the circle. This experiment was designed to show the problems of multitasking. When you do multiple tasks at once, you often perform very badly. Leaders should not overwhelm their workers with multiple tasks, but encourage their workers to finish the task one at a time and also limit distractions.