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If you wish to commission or participate in research, please get in touch.

Professional Psychologists view themselves as scientist-practitioners i.e. people who apply scientifically validated methodologies in practice to help organizations be more effective. Professional psychologists are expected to understand and critique others' research, in order to offer evidence-based best practice. They are also expected to conduct research themselves. Psychologists registered with the Health & Care Professions Council will have had to complete research in order to gain their qualifications. At Oxford Business Psychology we put a high value on research. We are currently engaged in five research programmes.

If you wish to contribute to, participate in or find out more about our research, please get in touch using the details below.

Class@Work: This project looks at the extent to which there is discrimination against people from lower socio-economic backgrounds in the workplace. The effect of this is likely to be compounded for people from ethnic backgrounds.


Image from BBC comedy sketch about class.

One of our major projects is an investigation of the impact of social class in the world of work. We are all aware of discrimination based on disability, gender and ethnicity. To what extent is there discrimination based on social class? Aside from the question of fairness, how much human potential are we leaving untapped? How much economic activity are we losing?

There is an overlap between ethnic and social class-based discrimination. People may not realise that many of the inequities faced by those from minority ethnic backgrounds are also experienced by the white working-class. Clearly such problems are amplified and layered upon unique issues facing the BAME communities.

Some of specific questions are:

  • Are there class differences in how people are recruited into organizations? Are some roles preferentially reserved for one class?
  • When someone of lower socio-economic status applies for an 'elite' role, how are they treated? Evidence shows that in some organizations they may be rejected for lacking 'polish'. To what extent is 'culture fit' code for social class?
  • How fair are competency based interviews? A young privileged individual may have been exposed to many more beneficial experiences to draw on in an interview than a candidate brought up in a deprived background.
  • Following on from that, how fair is it to downplay academic qualifications when exam success may be the primary avenue for demonstrating accomplishment amongst people from more deprived backgrounds?
  • How fair is the process for selecting people for internships?
  • Once someone is hired within an organization, how fair is the career progression process?
  • What are the costs of failing to fully harness the talents of those from poorer backgrounds?
  • To what extent do different factors contribute to the inequity? (e.g. the educational system; the structure of the economy; geographical factors; parental or cultural attitudes.)
  • What interventions will be quickest and most cost-effective in improving the situation?

Fundamental Models of Personality: This project attempts to 'get under the hood' of personality. A deeper understanding of it opens the possibility of personality coaching.

Fundamental Models of Personality.

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Much psychological assessment is based on examining individual differences in motivation and personality. The main assessment tools (i.e. questionnaires) we use are based on descriptive rather than explanatory models. They address the main categories we perceive, as lay people, to be the most significant ways of differentiating the behaviour of others. An alternative would be to have a model with a small number of components which could generate the behaviour we observe.

The current de facto model of personality is the five factor model. This model is derived from giving questionnaires to hundreds of thousands of people around the world and asking them to rate their own behaviour and that of others against words and phrases we commonly use to describe people. Statistical analysis very robustly and repeatedly finds that the the wide range of behaviours group into five high level factors:

  • extraversion
  • emotional stability
  • conscientiousness
  • agreeableness and
  • openness to experience.

But these factors are groupings of our perceptions of others. The factors are categories, not functional components. The five factor model does not offer an explanatory mechanism. There is no 'extraversion' centre in the brain. Extraversion is a cluster of behaviour styles to which we assign a label.

This research project is aimed at reverse-engineering what we know about neuropsychology in humans and animals, cognitive psychology and individual differences to build a model of the underlying cognitive architecture which gives rise to the behaviours we describe as personality and motivation.

This may result in better assessment tools, and more effective methods for learning and personal development.

Sales Success: This project addresses the age-old question of what makes the difference between a great and an indifferent salesperson.

Sales Success.

Image of silhouettes of two people talking.

This project is aimed at identifying the most effective means of selecting and developing sales people. The first step is to differentiate between different types of sales e.g. retail, outbound call-centres; enterprise sales and different sectors e.g. car retail, travel, high technology etc. There are various models: focusing on question asking styles, the idea of the knowledge broker and the challenger sales specialist.

The approaches we are taking are:

  • Interviews.
  • Correlations between psychological characteristics (e.g. personality) and sales performance.
  • Observation and analysis of the transcripts of real-world sales conversations.

Ownership & Engagement: For years, leaders have sought to understand what motivates people to improve their performance at work. This project examines the extent to which having a stake in the organisation makes the difference.

Ownership & Engagement.

Pseudo-Soviet image of male and female workers.

Over the years there has been a huge amount of interest in employee engagement. One of the problems is that there is no universally agreed definition of the concept. Another is that the concept blurs into several other ideas about good Human Resources practice that have been around for many years (e.g. satisfaction and motivation). A third problem is that evidence is often correlational rather than causal. An organization which shows an improvement in performance over the same time period as an improvement in a measure of employee engagement, could attribute the performance improvement to the engagement improvement. But equally it could attribute the increase in engagement to the fact the company is doing better, has more money for pay increases, promotions and improvements to the work environment etc.

One definition of engagement was the idea that engaged employees put in more 'discretionary effort' i.e. suggest more ideas, help colleagues more often and work harder than they otherwise would, without the need for financial incentives. From the employer's perspective this is very good news. And from an employee's perspective, a job to which they feel a real commitment is bound to be more satisfying than one where they just turn up and go through the motions. On the other hand, asking employees to be more innovative and work harder for no personal financial reward, while executives receive large bonuses and shareholders receive dividends, could be seen as exploitative.

This project looks into the question of whether companies which share with employees the financial gains resulting from improved performance, outperform those that do not. The sharing can be through generous bonuses, shared ownership or co-operative status.

Real-world Problem Solving & Decision Making: This project explores whether people can be helped to improve the quality of outcomes when faced with real-world business problems.

Image of man at whiteboard.

Real-world Problem Solving & Decision Making.

There has been huge interest recently in behavioural economics and cognitive biases. Numerous laboratory experiments have investigated the 'irrationality' and innumeracy of our 'natural' approach to decision making. Whilst there is a large body of evidence backing this up, how much relevance does it have to practical, real-world business decision making? Many of the experiments and demonstrations involve scenarios where figures for the probabilities of various outcomes are provided and show that people fail to use this information optimally. But how often do we encounter situations where we know the precise probabilities of outcomes in advance? Apart from actuarial work, such probability information is rare. Real-world problem solving and decision making is subject to a range of other factors e.g. failing to search for alternatives, focussing on a single attribute of a problem, attempting to please the boss etc. Many inefficiencies in decision making are due to politics, personal or group interests, power relationships and motivations.

This research investigates the real-world issues that affect decision making quality, and will hopefully provide tools and methods to help managers make better decisions in the future.

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Oxford Business Psychology 2020