Positivity bubbles

Science Daily posted a research report last week titled Consumer Remorse: Difficult Choices Can Lead to Second-Guessing.

This found that "Consumers who choose between two good product options build a "positivity bubble" to justify their choices. But according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, that bubble is easy to burst."

"From routine cereal-aisle shopping to expensive big-ticket purchases, consumers are often free to choose among many similarly attractive options," write authors Ab Litt and Zakary L. Tormala (Stanford University). "In these contexts, it can be difficult to resolve one's preferences to arrive at a purchasing decision."

When decisions are difficult because the choices are equally appealing, people often become more positive in their attitudes and behaviors toward their chosen option after they choose it. But the authors found that this enhancement of a product is surprisingly fragile, and collapses easily in the face of even minor negative information about it.

"We show that the process is more like inflating a 'positivity bubble,' where there's an appearance of strong positive attitudes, but which masks a heightened vulnerability to ultimately collapsing," the authors write.

Reading this I wondered if there is any carry over of the effect into job choices. If someone is offered two jobs (unlikely in these times but not impossible) that have a relatively equal weighting of perceived pros and cons, then following the euphoria of landing a job does the positivity bubble burst once they are in post?

This might help explain why people frequently leave a new job after only a few months. But, if it is understood that a 'positivity bubble' is vulnerable then actions could be taken to mitigate the risk of it bursting. Of course a) I am extrapolating a lot from one small piece of research and b) some companies do have an ongoing mentoring/buddying system that carries people through the first few months.

There is a lot of work going on at the moment in the field of 'positive psychology'. The University of Pennsylvania has a useful list of readings that includes videos, articles, and books. There's also a Journal of Positive Psychology issued six times a year from 2009 (more times than in 2008 which I'm guessing indicates increasing interest in the topic). You can get a free sample e-copy of the journal. Mine had an article on Feeling good and open-minded: The impact of positive affect on cross cultural empathic responding, by Donna Webster Nelson at the Department of Psychology, Winthrop University, SC, USA.

She was researching the effect of positive thinking on cross cultural relations, opening her paper saying:

… in the workplace, positive affect has been linked to enhanced cooperation
(e.g., Baron, 1990) and intentions to perform organizational citizenship behaviors (Williams & Shiaw, 1999). In sum, there is quite a bit of evidence from diverse sources that positive affect has the potential to exert an array of beneficial psychological, cognitive and social effects.

And concluding with her findings that:

Calling on positive emotions when facing unfamiliar social exchanges may help individuals with different backgrounds to respond to one another with tolerance and compassion. This will serve the important function of promoting the construction of cooperative as opposed to oppositional relationships, helping individuals and societies function in an adaptive and harmonious way.

These findings are consistent with the notion that positive emotion promotes a greater tendency toward holistic, open minded processing and this can translate into important social-cognitive effects.

So what I'm now wondering is whether workplaces should pay more attention than they do it taking conscious action to foster positive thinking, and helping to maintain and enlarge positivity bubbles where they exist.

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