The Good and Bad of Psychology in Tech Companies

The strategic use of psychology is becoming more explicit and valued in many businesses today, whether for good…or not. Some of the implementation of psychological principles can be incredibly powerful for aspiring businesses, such as an article by Wharton professor Adam Grant extolling the virtues of “Humble Narcissism”, a mindset of being ambitious enough to aspire to greatness while humble enough to not only accept criticism but actively seek help from others. When paired with the long-established research of Carol Dweck regarding “Growth vs Fixed mindsets,” these become useful, easy understandable psychological tools to assist any aspiring corporate giant.

Even Gallup has shown the value of psychology, noting how the Nobel Prize in Economics is now going to psychologists! Between optimizing employee culture, understanding user design, and even the top “tips and tricks” for selling and client management, psychology has a wide array of positive impacts in the workplace.

However, some of the use of psychology in business practices does more than raise concerns. One of the most popular, and controversial, uses of psychology is the implementation of “persuasive design”, which is intended to manipulate users of different technologies and software. While it can certainly be implemented responsibly, the sad reality is that in many cases the use of persuasive design is to get users addicted to a platform or to manipulate them into spending large amounts of money. A common example is the inclusion of micro-transactions in video games. These are often low-value purchases of only $1, but for a small percentage of users, they can be addictive and lead to spending vast sums of money in a manner similar to gambling addiction.

It becomes important to balance the good and evils of psychology with responsible implementation and a strong foundation of ethics. Having an internal industrial psychologist or an external I/O consultant can help companies optimize performance the right way, without getting entangled in the minefield of ethical issues that come with the territory.