1. Study suggests stress faced by emergency call handlers damaging to long term health

    November 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Surrey press release:

    During this innovative study, researchers from the University of Surrey, University of Dundee, Anglia Ruskin University and Kingston University/St George’s, University of London investigated areas that impacted on the psychological health of call handlers.

    Previous research on how stress affects healthcare workers is largely focused on frontline staff i.e. paramedics and firefighters, however little is known on the impact on call handlers who make critical decisions in assessing what type of emergency response is required.

    Examining 16 studies from across the world, researchers identified key factors which cause operatives stress and potentially impact on their psychological health. Exposure to traumatic and abusive calls was found to negatively affect call handlers, because although they are not physically exposed to emergency situations, evidence demonstrated that they experienced trauma vicariously. In one study, participants reported experiencing fear, helplessness or horror in reaction to 32 per cent of the different types of calls that they received.

    A key stressor for call handlers was a lack of control over their workload due to the unpredictability of calls and a lack of organisational recognition of the demands of managing their assignments. One study reported that ambulance call handlers felt out of control of their workload after returning from rest breaks, which led them not taking scheduled breaks, leading to exhaustion. A lack of high quality training in dealing with pressurised calls was identified by some handlers as contributing to stress levels, with police call handlers in one study showing concern about their performance in handling fluid situations such as robberies in progress or suicidal callers, in case they did not make the correct decisions.

    Co-author of the paper Mark Cropley, Professor in Health Psychology at the University of Surrey, said:

    “Call handlers across different emergency services consistently reported their job as highly stressful, which in turn affects their psychological health. This undoubtedly impacts on their overall wellbeing, leading to increased sickness and time away from work, putting additional strain on the service and their colleagues.

    “Although handlers are not experiencing trauma first-hand the stress that they experience when responding to such calls should not be overlooked.”

    Co-author Professor Patricia Schofield, of Anglia Ruskin University, said: “Call handlers are the front line of emergency care but are often overlooked when it comes to studies about stress affecting the police, fire and ambulance services. This study finds evidence that staff are at risk of burnout, due to high workload, inadequate training and a lack of control.

    “It’s important that these staff are considered and interventions made to ensure that they can cope with their workload — these people make vital decisions which affect lives.”

    Co-author Professor Tom Quinn from Kingston University & St George’s, University of London, said:

    “Most people probably don’t recognise the stressful conditions under which emergency call centre staff work. Now that we have explored and summarised the evidence to identify the challenges these important staff face, we plan to develop and test interventions to reduce the burden on them and improve their wellbeing.”


  2. Study suggests parents help shape how much pain preschoolers feel after vaccination

    by Ashley

    From the York University press release:

    While vaccinations protect children against various illnesses, the pain can sometimes be too much to bear. It’s no wonder most children and parents dread their vaccination appointments. Now new research from York University’s OUCH Cohort at the Faculty of Health found that the amount of distress and pain felt by a preschooler during a vaccination is strongly related to how their parents help them cope before and during an appointment.

    Professor Rebecca Pillai Riddell in the Faculty of Health, York Research Chair in Pain and Mental Health and senior author of the paper, has been following the OUCH Cohort children for over a decade. In the study, researchers used the data from 548 children who had been followed during infant and/or preschool vaccinations. Infants were included in the study if the infant had no suspected developmental delays or impairments, had no chronic illnesses, had never been admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit, and was born no more than three weeks preterm.

    The research, led by graduate student Lauren Campbell, examined children who were expressing the most pain during preschool vaccinations. The goal of the study was to find out what would best predict the children who had the highest pain and did the poorest coping during the preschool vaccination by watching both the child and the parent over repeated vaccinations over childhood. Researchers evaluated various pain behaviours such as facial activity (grimacing), leg activity (crunching of legs), crying and consolability to measure the level of pain in children. They also looked at what the child and parent said that related to coping with the pain.

    The results suggested that a preschooler’s ability to cope is a powerful tool to reduce pain-related distress but they need parents to support their coping throughout a vaccination appointment to have an impact in reducing pain-related distress.

    “When children were distressed prior to the needle, that made them feel more pain after the needle,” says Pillai Riddell.

    The data confirmed that engaging in coping-promoting behaviours like encouraging a child to take deep breaths was important. Using distractions such as pulling out an iPhone or distracting children with plans about what they will do after the appointment also improved children’s coping.

    However, Pillai Riddell says it may be even more important to avoid negative or distress-promoting behaviours.

    “Telling kids that ‘it’s ok, it’s going to be fine’ over and over again actually makes children feel anxious. Parents only say things are ‘okay’ when things are not ok. Ensuring you don’t criticize a child, such as saying: ‘strong girls don’t cry’, ‘big boys don’t do that’ is important. Also, don’t apologize to a child by saying things like: ‘I’m sorry this is happening to you,’ is also key, says Pillai Riddell. “These are all distress-promoting behaviours and increase pain and distress.”

    The study, published in Pain, found that not only is a parent’s behaviour during vaccinations critical to a child’s pain coping responses, but that the behaviour may also impact their reactions in the future. Moreover, the research may better inform medical care and may predict suffering by children during vaccinations into adulthood.

    “People who have negative reactions with doctors when they are young, may avoid preventative care in the future. If you didn’t like a needle when you were five, that can stick with you.”


  3. Study suggests cognitive behavioral therapy for children and adolescents with OCD works in the long run

    by Ashley

    From the Aarhus University press release:

    Some children and adolescents think that they will have an accident if they do not count all the lampposts on their way to school. Or cannot leave the house unless they have washed their hands precisely twenty-five times. They suffer from OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which is an extremely stressful psychiatric disorder that affects between 0.25 and 4 per cent of all children.

    Fortunately, the treatment method — cognitive behavioural therapy — is both effective and well-documented. The hitherto largest research study of OCD treatment for children and adolescents aged 7-17 now shows that cognitive behavioural therapy also has a long-lasting effect. The Nordic research project, which involves researchers from Aarhus University and child and adolescent psychiatry clinics in Norway and Sweden, has shown that children and adolescents who benefited from the therapy were also free of patterns of compulsive behaviour and compulsive thoughts one year after the treatment ended.

    “The study makes clear that cognitive behavioural therapy reaches beyond the treatment period. This knowledge is important, both for the practitioners, but not least for the affected children and their families,” says Per Hove Thomsen, one of the researchers behind the study and professor at Aarhus University and consultant at the Centre for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Risskov. He is also the final author of the results, which have just been published in the scientific journal Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

    “OCD is a very difficult disorder which demands a colossal amount of the child in question. It is almost impossible to live a normal life as a child and teenager with a normal level of development, if you need to wash your hands a hundred times a day in a particular way in order not to be killed, which is something that compulsive thinking can dictate. For the same reason, early intervention is necessary before the disorder has disabling consequences in adulthood,” says Per Hove Thomsen.

    The children from the study were treated with cognitive behavioural therapy, which is a behavioural psychological treatment. Fundamentally it involves getting help to refrain from acting on compulsive thoughts and instead incorporating new thought patterns. The method also involves the whole family, as the effect is strengthened by the mother and father supporting the methods that the child is given to overcome the OCD.

    Furthermore, according to Psychologist and PhD David R.M.A Højgaard, who is the lead author of the scientific article, once the treatment is completed a watchful eye should still be kept on the child or teenager.

    “The results of the study indicate that to maintain the effect in the longer term you need to remain aware and detect OCD symptoms so you can nip them in the bud before they develop and become worse. This is done by offering booster sessions to refresh the treatment principles and thereby prevent OCD from getting a foothold again,” says David R.M.A Højgaard.

    The collaboration with the Norwegian and Swedish child and adolescent psychiatry clinics has added knowledge that can be significant for the organisation of OCD treatment.

    “The biggest challenge facing OCD treatment is that there are not enough specially trained therapists and treatment facilities to meet needs. The study shows that if the level of training of therapists is consolidated and if supervision is provided, then it is possible to provide treatment in an isolated corner of Norway that is just as effective as the treatment provided at a university clinic,” says Per Hove Thomsen.

    The study is part of The Nordic Long Term OCD Treatment Study (NordLOTS) and comprises 269 children and adolescents with OCD from Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

    The results showed that 92 per cent of the 177 children and teenagers who immediately benefited from the treatment were still healthy and free of symptoms one year after the treatment ended. Of these, 78 per cent had no clinical symptoms of OCD.


  4. Study suggests commonplace jokes may normalize experiences of sexual misconduct

    November 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Taylor & Francis press release:

    Commonplace suggestive jokes, such as “that’s what she said,” normalize and dismiss the horror of sexual misconduct experiences, experts suggest in a new essay published in Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, a National Communication Association publication.

    The recent wave of sexual assault and harassment allegations against prominent actors, politicians, media figures, and others highlights the need to condemn inappropriate and misogynistic behavior, and to provide support and encouragement to victims.

    Communication scholars Matthew R. Meier of West Chester University of Pennsylvania and Christopher A. Medjesky of the University of Findlay argue that off-hand, common remarks such as the “that’s what she said” joke are deeply entrenched in modern society, and contribute to humorizing and legitimizing sexual misconduct.

    The first notable “that’s what she said” joke occurred during a scene in the 1992 film Wayne’s World; however, it became a running joke in the hit television show The Office, leading to “dozens of internet memes, video compilations, and even fansites dedicated to cataloguing occurrences and creating new versions of the joke.” After analyzing multiple examples of the joke used in the show, the authors argue that the “that’s what she said” joke serves as an analog to the rhetoric of rape culture.

    By discrediting and even silencing victims, this type of humor conditions audiences to ignore — and worse, to laugh at — inappropriate sexual behavior.

    Furthermore, the authors suggest that these types of comments contribute to dangerous societal and cultural norms by ultimately reinforcing the oppressive ideologies they represent, despite the intentions or naivete of the people making the jokes.

    The authors argue that the “that’s what she said” joke cycle is part of a larger discourse that not only becomes culturally commonplace, but also reinforces dangerous ideologies that are so entrenched in contemporary life that we end up laughing at something that isn’t funny at all.


  5. Study suggests customers who pay for their purchases by card are less likely to remember the precise amount paid

    November 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt | Graz | Wien press release:

    The transparency of spending money depends on the mode of payment used: cash, single-function cards that offer only a payment function, or multifunctional cards which may also include bonus programmes, user identification or other functions. A recent study has shown that the recall accuracy associated with the act of paying is lower for both card formats than it is for cash transactions.

    According to current estimates, approximately 3 billion new so-called smart cards will be issued across the globe in 2017. Smart cards conveniently combine the payment function with additional types of functionality. Since 2000, the number of smart cards that are carried in users’ wallets has grown by around 20 per cent annually. It is anticipated that these types of functions will be made available directly through smartphones or smart watches in the future.

    Intrigued by this boom, researchers at the University of Cologne and the Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt have recently examined the effect these shifting payment methods are having on the customers. Rufina Gafeeva, Erik Hoelzl and Holger Roschk have carried out a field study, as part of Rufina Gafeeva’s PhD-thesis, to determine recall accuracy in relation to recently made payments. Data were gathered at two separate time points in cafeterias at a German university; the first time point was during the summer of 2015 (prior to the introduction of a multifunctional card on campus), and the second time point was during the summer of 2016 (following the introduction of the multifunctional card). Researchers were able to analyse guided interviews, which were conducted with a total of 496 students immediately after the act of paying.

    “We were able to show that individuals who pay by card have a less accurate recall of the amount paid than individuals who settle their bill with cash,” the research team summarises the findings. In addition, regarding the multifunctional card, the individual patterns of use play a critical role: “Individuals who use the non-payment functions of the multifunctional card are less likely to remember the transaction details accurately.”

    According to the authors of the study, these results are relevant for the financial wellbeing of everyone. After all: “A precise recollection of past spending has an effect on the willingness to spend money in the future,” the researchers explain. Efforts to encourage the customer to adopt a financially healthy behaviour require increased transparency. “To heighten our awareness we need designs that separate the payment function from other functions, or that visualise the act of spending money, such as immediate payment information or transaction summaries.”


  6. Chimp study points to the origins of disgust

    November 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Kyoto University press release:

    Chimpanzees do some pretty disgusting things.

    In their natural habitats, chimpanzees are known to pick up seeds from feces and re-ingest them. In captivity, some practice coprophagy: the deliberate ingestion of feces. These behaviors usually involve their own fecal matter, or that of their closest family members. If presented with feces and other bodily fluids from others, however, that’s an entirely different story.

    In 2015, researchers from Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute went to the Primate Center at the ‘Centre International de Recherches Médicales de Franceville’ (CIRMF) in Gabon to test whether chimpanzees are grossed out by some of the same things as humans, particularly those that are sources of infectious disease.

    Avoiding biological contaminants is a well-known manifestation of the adaptive system of disgust. In theory, animals evolved with this system to protect themselves from pathogens and parasites, which are often associated with media or substrates that invoke our sense of disgust. For example, bodily products are universal disgust elicitors in humans, but until now we did not know whether they also elicit similar reactions in our primate cousins.

    In a new study published in Royal Society Open Science, researchers found evidence that exposure to biological contaminants — ie feces, blood, semen — via vision, smell, and touch, influences feeding choices even in chimpanzees.

    A series of novel experiments show that chimpanzees delay eating food items placed atop replica feces compared to the more benign brown foam; generally stay further away from the smell of potential biological contaminants; and recoil from food items associated with soft and moist substrates.

    “If chimpanzees and other primates can discern contamination risk via different cues, individuals with higher sensitivities to feces and other bodily fluids may be less infected, which could have important health benefits,” explains Cecile Sarabian, the lead author of the study.

    “Moreover, such results may have implications for animal welfare and management. We can better inform staff and keepers about the adaptive value of such sensitivity and its flexibility, as well as identify which individuals may be more at risk of infection and therefore require more attention.”

    While visual and olfactory cues of biological contaminants made the chimps hesitate before chowing down, it did not stop them from feeding entirely. However, tactile information seemed to elicit the strongest aversive reaction.

    When the researchers presented chimpanzees with an opaque box where they could reach in for food placed atop a soft and moist piece of dough, the chimps recoiled immediately after making contact. They did not, however, react the same way if the food was placed atop a piece of rope.

    Chimpanzees, therefore, spontaneously react just like humans when blindly touching soft and moist substrates, which incidentally are expected to be rich in biological contaminants compared to hard and dry substances.

    “While anyone watching the reactions of these chimpanzees in the tactile experiments can empathize with them, it’s premature to say that they feel the same as we might in that situation” cautions Andrew MacIntosh, senior author on the study. “What’s great about these experiments, though, is that the observed responses are functionally similar to what ours would be, providing evidence that the mechanism underlying their behavior could be similar to ours.”

    “These experiments hint at the origins of disgust in humans, and help us better understand the protective function of this emotion” concludes Cecile Sarabian. “We are currently in the process of expanding our ‘disgusting’ work to include other primate and non-primate species.”


  7. Researchers design social mobile gaming that boosts rehabilitation for physically impaired patients

    by Ashley

    From the Imperial College London press release:

    The researchers from Imperial have designed a video game called Balloon Buddies, which is a tool that enables those recovering from conditions such as a stroke to engage and play together with healthy volunteers such as therapists and family members as a form of rehabilitation.

    Balloon Buddies is designed to level the playing field by allowing healthy participants to support the less abled player. The researchers have shown that this type of collaboration makes it more rewarding for the less-abled partner, more challenging for the better partner, and overall more fun for both, as they have to continuously work together to score points.

    The team have trialled Balloon Buddies by getting patients to play it on their own in single player mode and then partnered with healthy volunteers during dual player gameplay. They found that the performance of the patient was boosted when they played with a healthy volunteer, compared to if they were playing the game on their own. In addition, they found that the poorer a patient’s single player performance was, the greater the improvement seen when they played with another during dual-player mode.

    These findings published today in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation (JNER), suggest that by increasing engagement with healthy volunteers, compared to playing alone, patients may be more likely to increase the effort they put into training, which could ultimately lead to greater gains in physical performance.

    While the pilot study was limited to 16 patients and 32 healthy participants playing in 16 pairs, the researchers believe this form of rehabilitation through gaming may be beneficial to patients recovering from other illnesses such as musculoskeletal injuries, arthritis, and cerebral palsy. The researchers are aiming to further develop the game alongside new multiplayer concepts and show that it can be used in different settings including patients training with their therapist or with other patients, in community centres or even remotely at home.

    Dr Michael Mace, lead author from the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London, said: “Video games are a great way of providing repetitive exercise to help patients recover from debilitating illnesses. However, most games are designed for users to play on their own, which can actually discourage and isolate many patients. We developed the Balloon Buddy game to enable patients to train with their friends, family or caregivers in a collaborative and playful manner. The technology is still being developed, but we have shown that playing jointly with another individual may lead to increased engagement and better outcomes for patients.”

    Balloon Buddies uses animation, sounds, and vibration-feedback, similar to conventional video games. It requires users to balance a ball on a beam, which is lifted at each of its ends by balloons controlled by the players. The main aim of the game is for the players to vary the height of the beam so that the ball collides with moving targets in order to collect points. Players are also required to work together to keep the beam horizontal so that the ball doesn’t roll off the platform. It is played with a wireless handgrip called GripAble, enabling people with arm weakness to control video games on any standard tablet device.

    In the study, the researchers tested the game on 16 patients who had arm weakness following a stroke with a healthy volunteer over three months at Charing Cross Hospital, which is part of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, in 2016. Previously, the game was also tested on 16 healthy pairs with different baseline abilities.

    The team will now carry out a larger study to examine whether the game leads to more efficient learning and to examine if patients are more motivated to train for longer periods. They will also explore social implications of interaction such as the effect of patients playing with a relative versus a stranger.


  8. Modeling social interactions to improve collective decision-making

    November 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the CNRS press release:

    How are we affected by other peoples’ opinions? To answer this question, scientists[1] at the CNRS, Inra and Université Toulouse 1 Capitole conducted a study in France and Japan, quantifying this impact on our decisions. They identified five behaviors common to both countries: a majority of subjects make a compromise between their opinion and that of others (59% of people in France), some hold to their opinion (29% in France), whereas others follow faithfully, amplify or contradict the information they receive. The study also shows how social information can help a group collectively improve its performance and the precision of its estimates. From this analysis, a model has been developed that reproduces the results of the study and predicts the performance of a group depending on the amount and quality of information exchanged between its members. The long-term goal would be to develop algorithms for decision-making support tools. The results of this study were published on November 6, 2017 in PNAS.

    The fast growth of digital technologies and content availability is making us interact more with others. Increasingly, social networks are becoming important sources of information that we choose to take account of or ignore. Many e-commerce sites make extensive use of review and scoring systems, which allow their customers to use the opinions of others to make their own choices. Without even considering false information, that is sometimes difficult to detect, we are each exposed to too much information to process it correctly every time.

    These observations call for the development of tools to help in collective decision-making, which could assist with processing information and making decisions in a group that uses social interactions. The group of researchers involved in the study focused on the impact of social information, i.e., the way that others affect what we do. Under what conditions can this social information increase the effectiveness of our collective decision-making?

    The experiments involved 186 people in France and 180 in Japan. Each participant had to estimate values, such as Gandhi’s age when he died, or the number of stars in our galaxy, and give a degree of confidence in their answer. After the first stage, the average of the previous participants’ responses — the social information-was given to them, and the subject had to reply again to give a final estimate. One of the unique features of this study is the introduction of virtual agents who were controlled by the researchers without the knowledge of the participants — and always gave the correct answer. These agents, whose number varied, therefore favorably influenced the social information sent to subjects.

    This work shows how social information leads the group to collectively improve its performance and the precision of its estimations. It can also accurately measure how sensitive subjects are to social information. The researchers identified five sensitivity profiles that are independent of cultural bias, because they are present in both countries. In France, an analysis of almost 11,000 responses shows that 29% of the people sampled hold to their opinion, 4% strictly follow the information given to them, and 59% find a compromise between their initial opinion and the social information. Thinking that the rest of the group has, the same way as they did, underestimated their initial response, 6% of people amplify the social information received. Finally, 2% end up contradicting their own estimation and that of the group, most often without being able to justify their decision. In addition, the further a participant’s personal feeling is from the social information received, the more sensitive this subject is to the information. In another more surprising result, the scientists have shown that the performance of a group may be improved by a limited quantity of incorrect information, which compensates for a human cognitive bias that underestimates quantities.

    Based on these experiments, a mathematical model has been developed. It faithfully reproduces the social information sensitivity mechanisms observed experimentally and predicts the impact of the amount and quality of information exchanged between the individuals in a group on their collective performance. A better understanding of the governing processes of how social information influences individual choices and collective information opens new perspectives. Personalized algorithms could be developed to anticipate the different types of answers according to the form of social information received. This could contribute to improving cooperation and collaboration on the scale of groups.

    Note:

    [1] The French laboratories involved in this study:

    The Centre de recherches sur la cognition animale (CNRS/Université Toulouse III — Paul Sabatier)

    The Laboratoire de physique théorique (CNRS/Université Toulouse III — Paul Sabatier)

    TSE Recherche (CNRS/Université Toulouse 1 Capitole/INRA/EHESS) a Toulouse school of economics laboratory


  9. Study suggests student self-reporting can help educators catch academic and mental health problems early

    November 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Missouri-Columbia press release:

    At the start of the school year, many students expect to go through the process of getting their ears and eyes checked by school nurses for hearing and vision issues. Increasingly, students might also expect to be screened for potential mental health problems. Stephen Kilgus, an associate professor in the Department of Educational, School and Counseling Psychology in the College of Education at the University of Missouri, is analyzing how a new screening tool, which is completed by students, can help teachers identify potential academic, social and emotional problems. The data might help give teachers better tools to improve children’s lives in the classroom and beyond.

    Kilgus and his colleagues have developed a student version of the Social, Academic and Emotional Behavior Risk Screener (SAEBRS), which students use to provide information about their own mental health. Research suggests that as students enter middle school, they tend to internalize issues. This is particularly true of conditions such as depression and anxiety. Furthermore, middle and high school students spend their school day with multiple teachers and adults, making it difficult to find a single adult who can easily track their behavior and report it accurately. Widespread use of the student version of the SAEBRS, in which students report their mental state directly, would remedy this by providing more accurate assessments for older children.

    “The goal is to place these screeners within a broader service delivery framework, where we identify kids that need help, provide them with interventions and then monitor their progress over time,” Kilgus said.

    Schools have quickly become the primary provider for screening students for potential challenges. Kilgus said not every family in a community has access to or the ability to access behavioral support, but schools often have the manpower and resources to provide accessible preventative services. The teacher version of SAEBRS is a screening survey completed by teachers at the start of the school year to identify which students might need more support. Kilgus’ objective is to pinpoint screening tools that can identify more kids who need help and bring teachers and parents in on the conversation.

    “Every time we work with educators, we try to help teachers understand the role they play in providing behavioral supports to students,” Kilgus said. “We also want parents to feel like they understand the process and give them a voice in how the scale and the data will be used.”

    Kilgus said the student version, which was given to middle school students in the study, is available through Fastbridge Learning, a software company that works with schools to offer online academic and behavioral screening, as well as other assessment services. The teacher scale also is available via FastBridge Learning and already in use with 250,000 students nationally.

    “Development and validation of the social, academic and emotional behavior risk screener-student rating scale” was published in Assessment for Effective Intervention. Other contributors were Nathaniel von der Embse, assistant professor of school psychology at the University of South Florida; Stephanie Iaccarino, doctoral student in the educational psychology program at Temple University; Ariel Mankin, doctoral student in the school psychology program at Temple University; and Eran Magen, Director of the Center for Supportive Relationships.


  10. Study suggests willingness to support corporate social responsibility initiatives contingent on perception of boss’ ethics

    November 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Vermont press release:

    A new study shows that people who perceive their employer as committed to environmental and community-based causes will, in turn, engage in green behavior and local volunteerism, with one caveat: their boss must display similarly ethical behavior.

    The forthcoming study in the Journal of Business Ethics by Kenneth De Roeck, assistant professor at the University of Vermont, and Omer Farooq of UAE University, shows that people who work for socially and environmentally responsible companies tend to identify more strongly with their employer, and as a result, increase their engagement in green and socially responsible behaviors like community volunteerism.

    “When you identify with a group, you tend to adopt its values and goals as your own,” says De Roeck. “For example, if you are a fan who identifies with the New England Patriots, their objective to win the Super Bowl becomes your objective too. If they win it, you will say ‘we,’ rather than ‘they,’ won the Super Bowl, because being a fan of the New England Patriots became part of your own identity.”

    That loyalty goes out the window, however, if employees don’t perceive their immediate supervisor as ethical, defined as conduct that shows concern for how their decisions affect others’ well-being. Results show that the propensity for the company’s environmental initiatives to foster employees’ green behaviors disappears if they think their boss has poor ethics. Employees’ engagement in volunteer efforts in support of their company’s community-based initiatives also declines if they believe their boss is not ethical, though not as dramatically.

    “When morally loaded cues stemming from the organization and its leaders are inconsistent, employees become skeptical about the organization’s ethical stance, integrity, and overall character,” says De Roeck. “Consequently, employees refrain from identifying with their employers, and as a result, significantly diminish their engagement in creating social and environmental good.”

    Companies as engines for positive social change

    Findings of the study, based on surveys of 359 employees at 35 companies in the manufacturing industry (consumer goods, automobile, and textile), could provide insight for companies failing to reap the substantial societal benefits of CSR.

    “This isn’t another story about how I can get my employees to work better to increase the bottom line, it’s more about how I can get employees to create social good,” says De Roeck, whose research focuses on the psychological mechanisms explaining employees’ reactions to, and engagement in, CSR. “Moreover, our measure of employees’ volunteer efforts consists of actions that extend well beyond the work environment, showing that organizations can be a strong engine for positive social change by fostering, through the mechanism of identification, a new and more sustainable way of life to their employees.”

    De Roeck says organizations wanting to boost their social performance by encouraging employee engagement in socially responsible behaviors need to ensure that employees perceive their ethical stance and societal engagement as authentic. To do so, and avoid any perception of greenwashing – the promotion of green-based initiatives despite not practicing them fully – organizations should strive to ensure consistency between CSR engagement and leaders’ ethical stance by training supervisors about social and ethical responsibility. Organizations should also be cautious in hiring and promoting individuals to leadership positions who fit with the company CSR strategy and ethical culture.

    “Organizations should not treat CSR as an add-on activity to their traditional business models, but rather as something that should be carefully planned and integrated into the company strategy, culture, and DNA,” says De Roeck. “Only then will employees positively perceive CSR as a strong identity cue that will trigger their identification with the organization and, as a result, foster their engagement in such activities through socially responsible behaviors.”