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Upcoming Reddit AMA about I/O Psychology Graduate School Applications

2015 October 20
by Richard N. Landers

As a companion to my grad school series, I will be hosting a week-long AMA in the IO Psychology subreddit. Although it’s an AMA, I suspect that most of my time will be spent responding to questions about getting into graduate school in I/O psychology! My post about choosing between the Master’s and Ph.D. already has 400+ comments, so I guess people like my advice! This will be a relaxed sort of AMA, taking place over a week, from Wednesday, Oct 21, 2015 around 6PM through about the same time on Tuesday, Oct 27.

Here is the text of the announcement on Reddit:

We are proud to announce our next AMA will be Richard Landers starting on Wednesday October 21st at around 6 pm. He will be keeping the AMA thread going through Tuesday October 27th so there will be a lot of time for people to ask their questions. Feel free to tell your friends to bring their questions too! With the extended timeline it is reasonable to expect responses back will be at least a bit delayed from our more compact AMAs, so do note that.

Below is a Bio and AMA information from Richard:

Richard Landers is a very recently tenured Associate Professor of Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Old Dominion University. After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2009, he began his research program on improving the use of Internet technologies in talent management, especially the measurement of knowledge, skills and abilities, the selection of employees using innovative technologies, and learning conducted via the Internet. Recent topics have included game-based learning, game-based assessment, gamification, unproctored Internet-based testing, mobile devices including smartphones and tablets, immersive 3D virtual environments and virtual reality, and social media and online communities. His research and writing has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Science News Daily, Popular Science, Maclean’s, and Chronicle of Higher Education, among others. He currently serves as Associate Editor of the International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, on the editorial board of Technology, Knowledge and Learning, and is part of the steering committee for the Coalition for Technology in Behavioral Science. He was Old Dominion University’s 2014 and 2015 nominee for the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia Rising Star Outstanding Faculty Award. He is also author of a statistics textbook, A Step-by-Step Introduction to Statistics for Business (SAGE), and editor of the upcoming Social Media in Employee Selection (Springer) alongside sub-reddit moderator iopsychology.

If you’ve been looking into graduate school in I/O Psychology, you’ve probably seen Richard’s blog, which is the most popular resource on the Internet for getting into I/O grad school:

On that website, he’s compiled a lot of advice on the most effective strategies for getting into both Master’s and Ph.D. programs, including a compilation of available PhD program rankings and more general guidance. The most popular page on the site ( currently has 431 comments, mostly questions from grad school hopefuls, about half of which are replies from Richard.

In this AMA, Richard will be primarily giving honest advice and answering questions about getting into graduate school in I/O from the perspective of an I/O faculty member selecting students into a fairly competitive I/O PhD program, but it’s an AMA, so any questions not covered by an NDA are fair game!

Gender Bias in Psychology Graduate Degrees

2015 October 14
by Richard N. Landers

A few days ago, I was looking at numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics in order to get a better sense of the gender bias in some STEM fields. Specifically, as part of a grant application, I wanted to know how much greater the rate of degrees awarded to males was than to females in a few scientific fields relevant to my project. The basic logic is that women make up 50% of the pool of degree candidates, so they should be around 50% of the number of degrees awarded. This sort of comparison is often used as a piece of the justification for allocating resources to increase the representation of women in STEM. As I expected, quite a few STEM fields have a significant gender imbalance; for example, only 14% of Master’s degrees in nuclear engineering go to women.

Out of curiosity, I decided to check the stats for Psychology and found something surprising: women are overrepresented, sometimes dramatically, in Master’s and Ph.D. degrees awarded. Far more women are pursuing graduate education in psychology than men, across domains. This certainly reflects my undergraduate classrooms, which are often quite lopsided, but I did not expect it at the graduate level.

I’m honestly not sure if this is a problem or not. We have evidence that women are systematically discouraged from pursuing most STEM careers in ways that are often quite explicit. Men do not generally face these sorts of problems. Although societally-prescribed social roles in part shape career paths for both men and women, women face unique problems not faced by men, and there are active efforts to address these problems.

Recognition of this gender imbalance in psychology, although not in the direction we usually hear about, is not new. Apparently the gender balance flipped around 1986 and became more extreme over the years. But we don’t seem to be doing anything about it. If the degree of imbalance seen here was in the opposite direction, in a natural science, it would be a problem to be solved. Are the same forces at play here? Is psychology seen as stereotypically feminine, discouraging men to pursue it, in the same way that stereotypically masculine fields discourage women? (Although assuredly, men probably do not face the same sort of outright harassment.)

I’ve created a couple of charts below to illustrate the extent of the imbalance in both Master’s and Ph.D. degrees awarded. My own area, I/O Psychology, is one of the more gender-balanced, with 36% male at the Master’s level (versus 50%, p < .001) and 42% male at the doctoral level (versus 50%, p = .056). In developmental psychology, around 1 in 10 graduate degrees awarded are to males. Should we be concerned?

Gamification Works a Lot Like Goal-Setting

2015 September 30
by Richard N. Landers

ResearchBlogging.orgOne of the most common forms of gamification is the use of leaderboards. Despite their bad press, leaderboards are commonly used to direct people to achieve specific target goals while motivating them via competition. You see that leaderboard, and you need to score highly on it! Leaderboards are sometimes derided as being poor examples of gamification, yet research seems to support them as effective tools, at least in some circumstances.

In organizational science, we already have a technique to give people goals: goal-setting! Goal-setting, without leaderboards, is quite effective at directing employee behavior. If give an employee a specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound (SMART) goal, that employee is more likely to achieve that goal than if you let them just try their best.

That leads to a bit of a problem if you’re planning a motivational intervention for your employees. Which would you expect to be more effective: a leaderboard or goal-setting theory?

In a recent study by Landers, Bauer and Callan[1], this was tested by experimentally assigning people to one of five brainstorming conditions. In four, participants experienced classic goal-setting stimuli – do-your-best, easy, difficult, and (nearly) impossible goals. In the fifth, they experienced a leaderboard with all of those goals but represented in point form – so for example, the top score on the leaderboard corresponded to the “impossible” goal.

Importantly, goal-setting theory tells people to try to reach a goal. So in the difficult goal-setting condition, participants were instructed to try for the difficult goal. In the leaderboard condition, they were not instructed at all – there was simply a leaderboard present.

So how did participants do? Simply presenting the leaderboard resulted in similar achievement levels to those of the difficult and impossible goals.

Figure demonstrating group differences between experimental conditions.

Figure 1 from Landers, Bauer & Callan (2015)

Thus, simply presenting a leaderboard motivated participants to strive for the top of the leaderboard, at the same level as difficult and impossible goal-setting. This demonstrates a great deal of value for gamification – instead of simply commanding your employees with specific goals, presenting those goals on a leaderboard could have a similar effect.

Importantly, goal commitment was important for the leaderboard just as it is for goal-setting. In goal-setting, you need to believe in your goal. You need to think that it’s a worthwhile goal to pursue. Leaderboards appear to work the same way – you need to believe those scores are worth pursuing. However, from the research presented it here, it appears that this commitment is even more important for leaderboards. People who did not believe in the leaderboard performed worse than those in the impossible goal-setting condition, whereas people who did believe in the leaderboard performed better than the impossible goal-setting condition.

Thus, for those highly committed to the leaderboard, games were more motivating than all types of goal-setting (including those highly committed to the impossible goal).

Overall, this provides compelling support for the use of leaderboards as an alternative presentation technique for goal-setting. Additional research is needed to determine if it can be even more effective – and precisely what gamification design will enable it.

  1. Landers, R. N., Bauer, K. N., & Callan, R. C. (2015). Gamification of task performance with leaderboards: A goal setting experiment Computers in Human Behavior DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2015.08.008 []