Personal need for structure in management decisions

Principal investigators: Prof. (FH) Dr. Michael Schmitz

Collaborators: Prof. (FH) Mag. (FH) Martin Samek, Mag. Jana Goldmann
Duration of the project: January 2010 – August 2010
Contact: [email protected]

Objectives of the project
In experimental research on the presumed correlation of lack of control and illusory pattern perception, Whitson and Galinsky (2008) could demonstrate that the need for structure and concomitant loss of control increase the tendency to perceive patterns in diffuse stimuli which do not really exist. In so doing, the test persons seek to regain or increase control and stability. These study results are particularly intriguing for international management settings, where decision-makers are constantly required to make sense of an overflow of information and identify patterns to structure their actions.
Following Whitson’s and Galinsky’s seminal work, the research team at LBS also adopted the Personal Need for Structure Scale developed by Thompson et al. (2001) but applied the research design to our business students, who will potentially become executive managers in global business. In addition to the images used by Whitson and Galinsky, the LBS researchers included images with colors changing from black/grey to grey/red/green (i.e. simulating additional and more precise information).
Our hypothesis was that potential managers tend to perceive patterns more swiftly, as they are inclined and trained to take decisions straightforwardly. To prime the responses, the participants were asked whether they recognize patterns at all and if so, which patterns they recognize.

The study was conducted on a sample of 98 participants (n=98) out of a population of 213 bachelor and master students enrolled at LBS at that time (N=213). The test was made available in the school’s computer lab for one week, and the students were invited to take the self-administered test at their convenience.
To establish the independent variable illusory patterns (high/medium/low), the researchers assumed impulse control, frustration tolerance and personal need structure as (metric) dependent variables. The data was processed in a multivariate variance analysis (MANOVA).

The findings this pilot study show that the test persons do not follow the behavior identified by Whitson and Galinsky. There was no significance increase in illusory pattern perception under conditions of losing control. The initial hypothesis was hence rejected. It remains to be explained why business students (and therefore potential managers) reacted differently than Whitson’s and Galinsky’s reference population.

Whitson, J. & Galinsky, A. (2008). Lacking Control Increases Illusory Pattern Perception. Science, 322(5898), 115-117
Thompson, M. M., Naccarato, M. E., Parker, K. C. H., & Moskowitz, G. (2001). The Personal Need for Structure (PNS) and Personal Fear of Invalidity (PFI) scales: Historical perspectives, present applications and future directions. In G. Moskowitz (Ed.), Cognitive social psychology: The Princeton symposium on the legacy and future of social cognition (pp. 19-39). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum