Cultural psychology for business: A conversation with Namrata Goyal

Psychology studies can be of the upmost importance for business students and to prepare future leaders. The new academic director of Esade’s DecisionLab, Namrata Goyal, explains why.

Do Better Team

Namrata Goyal is an Assistant Professor in the Department of People Management and Organization at Esade. She has recently been appointed as the academic director of the DecisionLab, Esade’s research hub for studies on human behavior. Additionally, she is one of the professors listed in P&Q’s 40-Under-40 Best MBA Professors of 2023. Do Better spoke to her about her teaching interests, research areas and plans in this new role. 

Goyal teaches leadership courses at Esade’s BBAs and MBAs. “I apply a unique focus on introspections rather than external factors. This approach provides my students with valuable insights and self-awareness. I center my classes around the process of self-discovery, aiming to uncover blind spots, biases, and implicit errors that can hinder effective leadership”, she says.  
 
As a researcher specialized in cultural psychology, she delves into judgement and decision-making biases related to stereotypes, as well as taboo topics such as diversity-based hiring and implicit stereotypical associations. “By exploring the intricate connections between culture, psychology, and leadership, I hope to help students develop a deeper understanding of how cultural factors shape perceptions, decisions, and interactions in a diverse business landscape.” 

The psychology of cultural norms 

Goyal’s research interest focuses on two specific topics in the realm of social and cultural psychology. The first concerns the consequences of public leaders violating cultural norms. "In recent years, people have been fascinated by unconventional leaders like Beppe Grillo or Donald Trump, who often exhibit prior 'bad behavior.' In my research, I investigate when and under what conditions such disclosures are beneficial to leaders," she explains. 

Her work in this field has revealed that the public tends to admire rule-breaking leaders only when their behavior is anti-establishment, but not antisocial, and only if they are upfront about their past transgressions. Currently, she is further exploring to what extent the 'benefits' of disclosing prior anti-establishment transgressions can be applied to female leaders as well. 

The other facet of her research endeavors to uncover when people make exceptions to rigid cultural rules. "Certain moral beliefs are often considered non-negotiable, as they are deeply rooted in group identity and cultural heritage. For instance, views on abortion, the death penalty, and vaccination," she explains. "However, during times of global crises, such non-negotiable rules can hinder collective action." 

There exist 'gray areas' where people may be willing to be flexible on their non-negotiable values

An example of this can be found during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the midst of the crisis, especially in the US, some anti-abortion groups refused certain vaccines. In this case, it wasn’t due to the wide range of conspiracy theories about vaccination circulating at the time, but rather ethical concerns about the use of fetal cells in their development. Yet this is a gray-zone, as getting vaccinated isn´t supporting abortion in the present, but rather being flexible about one that has already happened. 

In this field of research, Professor Goyal endeavors to understand when and how people may be willing to make exceptions to their non-negotiable cultural beliefs. “I have discovered that in many black and white cultural rules, there exist 'gray areas' or situations where people may be willing to be flexible on their non-negotiable values. In such gray zones, presenting people with consensus information, i.e., telling people that others in their community are also willing to be flexible on their non-negotiable values, nudges people to to do the same.” 

In her opinion, understanding the potential for flexibility in non-negotiable values has significant policy implications. "By recognizing the existence of gray areas and the role of consensus information, policymakers can develop strategies that navigate the complexities of deeply held beliefs, fostering collective action even in the face of moral rigidity," she asserts. 

Scientific mission

My scientific mission is to give a voice to under-represented groups in psychological inquiry, particularly in the context of business schools. Traditional psychological research has mainly focused on Western populations, limiting our understanding of the universality of psychological theories across cultures. This gap is particularly important in business schools, where cultural diversity and global perspectives are significant. Through my work, I aim to bridge this gap by exploring culture, its nuances, and its impact on various aspects of organizational behavior, including leadership, communication, and decision-making. 

Recognizing the value of cultural diversity in business environments, my research uncovers the psychological processes, values, and norms that shape behavior and decision-making across cultures. By shedding light on these dynamics, we can equip business leaders with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate cultural complexities, foster inclusive workplaces, and engage effectively with diverse markets and stakeholders.  

In summary, my scientific mission is to contribute to a more inclusive and culturally sensitive understanding of psychology in business schools. By amplifying the voices of under-represented groups and expanding our knowledge of cultural influences, we enrich business education, empower individuals from diverse backgrounds, and embrace the complexity of human behavior in organizations. 

Present and future of social psychology

Over the last decades there has been a great amount of ground-breaking work in the field of social psychology. For Goyal, there are four topics that have received the most attention. The first one is social identity and how it shapes people’s attitudes, behaviors and intergroup relations. Topics such as identity threat, social categorization and the impact of group membership on various psychological processes. 

Also, the study of implicit biases and its impact on decision-making, as well as attitudes and general behavior, has been a hot topic in recent times. There’s been a surge of innovative methods to measure and address these biases, with the overall goal of promoting inclusivity and reducing discriminatory behavior. Recent studies by Goyal’s and her colleagues Jonas De keersmaecker and Katharina Schmid addressed this pressing issue. 

The third one is digital and online social behaviors. “With the rise of social media and digital platforms, researchers have turned their attention to understanding how online interactions and virtual environments shape social behavior,” Goyal says. “Topics such as online identity, cyberbullying, and the impact of social media on well-being have gained prominence.” 

Researchers are likely to further explore topics such as the impact of emerging technologies on social behavior

Finally, the last topic is the psychological implications of political polarization. Being an increasingly worrying in many countries, especially for democracies, researcher have turned their attention into understanding the psychological processes underlying political beliefs and ideological differences, as well as understanding the consequences of polarization on intergroup relations and societal cohesion. Prof. Goyal herself is also conduncting research on some of these topics. 

And what about the future of discipline? “Looking ahead, researchers are likely to further explore topics such as the impact of emerging technologies (e.g., artificial intelligence, virtual reality) on social behavior, the psychology of collective action and social movements, and the role of culture in shaping social cognition and behavior.” 

Towards a better science-making

The replication crisis has been a concerning matter in this field. The results of many psychological studies are often found to be impossible to replicate, even under the same methods and conditions. To address this problem, Goyal suggests “fostering a culture of transparency and openness is paramount. It's crucial for researchers to prioritize practices such as pre-registering their studies, openly sharing data and analysis code.” 

Furthermore, she calls to reconsider the current academic incentives driving research. “Currently, the emphasis is often placed on groundbreaking and novel findings, overlooking the importance of replication efforts. Journals and institutions should offer incentives for researchers to conduct and publish replications, and provide the credit and recognition these endeavors deserve.” 

Another key aspect she points out is to improve research methodology and statistical practices. “Adequately powering studies, employing appropriate statistical techniques, and promoting robust experimental design all contribute to enhancing the reliability and replicability of our findings. Emphasizing rigorous methods education for researchers and fostering awareness of best practices can significantly impact the quality of our results.” 

We should encourage the publication of negative results, reducing the stigma associated with non-replication

In addition, collaboration also plays an important role. According to Goyal, “encouraging large-scale multi-site collaborations and replication projects strengthens the generalizability and reliability of the findings.” Moreover, “collaborating with other research groups facilitates collective efforts in tackling replication challenges and fosters a collaborative spirit within the scientific community.” 

Last but not least, there’s the need for a change in a scientific culture that tends to give much more room and recognition to positive findings. “Often, negative results go unpublished, leading to publication bias and an inaccurate representation of the true state of knowledge”, Goyal says. In this sense, journals and institutions “can play a pivotal role in encouraging the publication of negative results, reducing the stigma associated with non-replication.” 

Plans for the DecisionLab

My primary focus is on fostering a vibrant research environment that thrives on innovation, collaboration, and meaningful impact. To achieve this, I have outlined four key goals for the upcoming year: 

  • Encouraging interdisciplinary collaborations: Breakthroughs occur at the intersection of diverse fields. Thus, I plan to facilitate collaborations between researchers from various departments, to promote an inclusive and holistic approach to problem-solving. These interdisciplinary partnerships will enable us to tackle complex research questions from multiple angles, leading to comprehensive and impactful findings. 
  • Engagement with the research community: Building strong ties with the broader research community is essential. I plan to actively engage with the community by organizing workshops, conferences, and public lectures. These platforms will not only provide opportunities to share our lab's findings but also inspire and motivate the next generation of researchers. 
  • Real-world impact: Research holds immense value when it addresses societal challenges and improves lives. To ensure our work has practical applications, we are in the process of establishing a Decision Lab newsletter. This newsletter will disseminate the most interesting discoveries from our lab to the wider university community. By bridging the gap between research and practice, we can make a tangible difference in the real world. 
  • Support for novice researchers: Nurturing emerging talent is a priority for me. To accomplish this, we are launching an internship program specifically designed for BBA and MSc students. Each year, we will hire approximately 10 interns who will gain valuable research experience while assisting our lab's researchers. This initiative aims to provide a supportive environment for budding researchers and foster their growth within the scientific community. 

 

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