I-O Outside I-O: A Quarterly Review of Relevant Research From Other Disciplines
Mark Alan Smith, CEB Talent Assessment; Alex Alonso, Society for Human Resource Management
It is often the case that social psychology is overlooked as a potential source for enhanced learning and application for our practices as I-O psychology. While social psychology is the origin of I-O, we have advanced our own version of applied social psychology beyond the roots in cognitive dissonance or attraction. In this column, we take a stroll back into the social psychology by examining the concepts of rejection and comparative feedback mechanisms. Whether looking at how individuals handle rejection or students experience test anxiety based upon the method of feedback processing, the studies reviewed here provide insights into the relationships between feedback and generalized attitudinal perceptions. In this review, we provide insights into the application of the relevant findings for workplace application.
Deri, S., & Zitck, E. M. (2017). Did you reject me for someone else? Rejections that are comparative feel worse. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43, 1675-1685.
In this article, the researchers looked at the factors that might impact how someone reacts to a rejection and particularly focused on whether someone is rejected in favor of someone else (comparative rejection) or no one else at all (noncomparative rejection).
Method and Findings
Four separate studies were used in this article to evaluate this effect. In the first study, 108 participants on the street were approached by an experimenter and asked to participate. When they agreed, they were matched with two other people (both confederates). One of the confederates then volunteered to be the primary participant in a problem-solving task and either choose the other confederate to also participate instead of actual participant (comparative rejection) or choose to do the task (noncomparative rejection). A follow-up survey showed that those who were rejected for someone else reported feeling significantly worse than those rejected for no one else. In the second study, 97 undergraduates participated in a similar study in exchange for class credit. As with the first study, participants who were rejected for someone else reported feeling significantly worse than those rejected for no one else.
In the third study, 202 participants were recruited via MTurk in exchange for a small amount of money. Participants were asked to write about two instances in random order: (a) a time in which they “were rejected and someone else was chosen” and (b) a time when they “were rejected and no one else was chosen.” In follow-up questions, participants reported significantly more negative reactions to comparative rejections than noncomparative rejections.
The fourth study was set up so that it was unclear why the rejection occurred. 201 participants were again recruited and compensated via MTurk and asked to imagine a situation in which they were dumped via text message from a dating partner without any stated reason. Most participants said that they would take steps to find out more information about why they were rejected. Findings from this study showed again showed that comparative rejections feel worse than noncomparative rejections. This study also showed that people generally assume that they were rejected for comparative reasons and will only feel marginally better when they were specifically told that is was a noncomparative rejection; in absence of information, people seemed to default to the assumption that they were rejected in favor of someone else.
Thoughts From an I-O Perspective
In our opinion, there are a couple of main takeaways from this research for our field, as we are often involved in decisions that naturally lead to rejections of some people. The first is that people feel worse about rejection when someone else is chosen instead of themselves rather than when no one is ultimately chosen. In the case of promotions in an organization, this information is typically readily known to everyone, and those not promoted will likely have hurt feelings. In the case of not hiring candidates (and to the extent that the feelings of those who are not hired are important for an organization), messaging should be crafted to make it clear to candidates in instances when no one is hired. The second takeaway is that most people will actively try to investigate the reason for a rejection, so providing no information (or inaccurate information) will likely not help lessen the negative feelings. Further, the lack of information about why a rejection occurred has about the same negative results as being rejected in favor of someone else.
Arens, A. K., Becker, M., & Moller, J. (2017). Social and dimensional comparisons in math and verbal test anxiety: Within- and cross-domain relations with achievement and the mediating role of academic self-concept. Comparative Educational Psychology, 51, 240-252.
In this article, German researchers examined the relationship between achievement and test anxiety as well as the role of academic self-concept in mediating the relationship. Specifically of interest were the relationships between two types of comparisons and feedback to students with perceived academic confidence. Arens et al (2017) conducted extensive research confirming three major hypotheses indicating the existence of a relationship between peer and dimensional comparisons with test anxiety.
Method and Findings
Researchers conducted this research to identify the factors linked to test anxiety and academic achievement. Arens et al (2017) employed a sample of 5,135 German seventh grade students to evaluate how the combination of domain-specific feedback and peer-comparison feedback processes played a role when considering both the emotionality and worry components of test anxiety, and whether the relation between achievement and test anxiety is mediated through academic self-concept. In their primary research, the researchers found that when applying the generalized internal and external frame of reference (GI/E) model to test anxiety results showed negative relations between achievement and test anxiety within math and verbal domains. Several indicators of partially positive relations across domains indicate a pattern of relations emerged for both the worry and emotionality components. Dimensional achievement comparison processes seemingly function to help develop domain-specific test anxiety factors particularly in the space of worry facets. These relationships did not vary according to gender or achievement levels.
Thoughts From an I-O Perspective
From the perspective of an I-O psychology, this research represents two key issues: (a) Domain-specific feedback still plays a role in test anxiety which has implications for those working in testing programs such as certification, licensure, and educational testing; and (b) peer-comparison processes generate anxiety in those being compared but not to the effect that we have feared for many years. Specifically, Arens and team found a larger effect from academic self-concept and domain-specific feedback than they did in the anticipated peer-comparison comparison process. This second implication seemingly challenges our understanding of feedback and, thus potentially, our understanding of posttest feedback among peers. This speaks to a potential situational distinction in the delivery of feedback on test performance is less fearsome than feedback regarding our workplace performance. With this in mind, it is important to consider exploring this distinction more directly in our field.