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People Management

Mindfulness meditation impairs task motivation but not performance

Andrew C. Hafenbrack

A  state  of  mindfulness  is  characterized  by  focused,  nonjudgmental  awareness  of  the  present  moment.  CLSBE  Professor  Andrew  Hafenbrack  and  Kathleen  Vohs  published  an  article  in  Organizational  Behavior  and  Human  Decision  Processes  that  tested  whether  and  how  state  mindfulness  influences  task  motivation  and  performance.  People  who  listened  to  one  8  or  15  minute  mindfulness  meditation  recording,  relative  to  comparison  conditions,  said  they  were  less  motivated  to  do  mundane  and  pleasant  tasks.  Focusing  less  on  the  future  and  feeling  less  energetic  were  the  processes  that  explained  the  demotivating  effect  of  mindfulness.  In  contrast  to  changes  in  motivation,  mindfulness  did  not  affect  task  performance,  as  seen  in  all  experiments  but  one.  Meta-analyses  of  performance  experiments,  including  unreported  findings  (i.e.,  the  file  drawer),  supported  these  conclusions.  The  final  experiment  showed  that  mindfulness  enabled  people  to  focus  less  on  the  things  that  made  them  feel  stressed,  which  improved  task  focus.When  combined  with  mindfulness’s  demotivating  effects,  these  results  help  explain  why  mindfulness  does  not  alter  performance.  The  authors  also  published  a  summary  Op-Ed  article  in  the  New  York  Times. 

Hafenbrack,  A.C.  &  Vohs,  K.D.  (2018).  Mindfulness  meditation  impairs  task  motivation  but  not  performance.  Organizational  Behavior  and  Human  Decision  Processes,  147,  1-15.


When a business person faces an organizational moral challenge, what internal processes compel them to respond with moral strength?

Francesco Sguera

To answer this question, we posited an important ethical role for self-conscious emotions (versus moral emotions) in the business context. In contrast to moral emotions, which generally focus on the interest or welfare of others (e.g., contempt, anger, disgust, or compassion), self-conscious emotions, such as pride and shame, focus on the agent as the center of attention and subsume personal judgments of both the self and one’s own actions.

This self-evaluative mechanism relates particularly to the expectations of others and what this means for the concept of self. That is, individuals might decide to sustain moral actions if the pride or shame that they experience (as a result of their previous actions) is consistent with the maintenance or reparation of their positive ideal self-image.

One way in which individuals evaluate if they lived up to their ideal self is by gauging what others think of them. Accordingly, in this research, my co-author and I investigated how pride and shame act as trigger for employees’ future actions, either by repairing damages done to other organizational stakeholders, or by sustaining positive behavior on behalf of their firm. Further, since doing good or causing harm as a member of the organization makes one the focus of attention by organizational stakeholders, we tested how individuals’ orientation toward others (measured as individuals’ perspective taking and other-directed life guiding principles) regulates the effects of pride and shame.

Specifically, we expected that individuals’ orientation toward others would accentuate the relevance of pride. In fact, a higher sensitivity in perceiving others' approval should augment the experience of pride and fulfill the actor's self-consistency needs required to sustain positive behaviors on the behalf of the company (i.e., a proud self).

Although important in amplifying the effects of pride, we expected that orientation toward others would lead to opposite results for people experiencing shame. In fact, a high sensitivity for perceived disapproval by others should induce ashamed individuals to flee the situation, because acting upon shame entails additional exposure to others' judgments, which eventually threaten one's self-concept. Low other-oriented individuals, in contrast, should try to repair the situation and, indirectly, their self-image. This is because engaging in reparative behaviors and facing others' judgments will not pose additional threats to their egos.

In simple words, this article suggests that the simple gaze of others on us provide additional strength to our felt pride (by making us even prouder), and block important reparative behaviors associated with shame (by making us feel even more ashamed). To test these hypotheses, we conducted an experiment with 258 individuals from a business college in the Western United States. The bulk of the participants were students preparing for their future role as full time managers, currently engaging in business management coursework and their internship program.

In the experiment, feelings of pride were induced as a result of engaging in perceived actions that enhanced a firm’s adoption of environmental responsibility with specific acts of moral strength taken to prevent an oil spill. Greater pride was shown to increase intended proactive behaviors (i.e., actions taken to sustain the firm’s doing good) to the degree that individuals held a strong orientation toward others.

 The alternative manipulation induced shame, experienced by a perceived consequence of engaging in acts that resulted in an oil spill. Feelings of shame influenced positive proactive behaviors (i.e., actions taken to benefit other people or the firm after the oil spill) to the extent that the individual had a weak orientation toward others.

In conclusion, understanding how morally responsible and irresponsible management actions lead to feelings of pride and shame can help us learn more about what motivates future action toward the organization, such as repairing the damage one has done to organizational stakeholders (e.g., in corporate scandals), or sustaining the company's responsible actions already in place. The findings of our research also offer business implications that can be applied to management education, as well as to corporate training and ongoing adult moral development in the workplace. For example, by explicitly discussing and valuing self-awareness and, more specifically, the ability to recognize one's own self-conscious emotions, managers can come to appreciate what enables (or disables) their ability to address an ethical issue, challenge, or dilemma with moral strength. In workshops or training sessions, employees can learn to openly discuss how affective influences play a role in fostering or thwarting an employee's desire to address an ethical issue.

Bagozzi, R.P, Sekerka, L., & Sguera, F. (2018). Understanding the Consequences of Pride and Shame: How Self-evaluations Guide Moral Decision Making in Business. Journal of Business Research, 84, 271-284.

ALTA DIGITAL