UCL School of Management

26 May 2023

Chia-Jung Tsay's research is at the forefront of BBC article

UCL School of Management Associate Professor Chia-Jung Tsay’s research is featured in BBC Worklife article: Why people reward innate talent over hard work? Chia-Jung Tsay has put the idea to the test in a series of studies. 

Perceived success and the role of hard work have always been topics of debate. But is hard work always valued as we think?

The article explores the phenomenon known as the “naturalness bias,” which refers to the tendency of people to value innate talent over hard work and effort.

The term “naturalness bias” is commonly used in consumer psychology to describe our tendency to prefer products or goods that are natural rather than synthetic. This bias can influence how achievements are perceived and valued in various domains, including employment, entrepreneurship, and personal accomplishments.

The author who coined that term Malcolm Gladwell, seems to have been the first to apply the concept to human abilities. He proposed, someone who had to work hard to achieve success has essentially gone against their “nature”, and their achievements would be respected less. Largely based on observation, Chia sought out experimental evidence with some eye-opening results!

In her study on musicians, Chia found that participants rated performers higher when their biographies emphasised natural talent rather than the effort they put into their craft. Similarly, in her examination of entrepreneurial success, participants showed greater respect for individuals portrayed as “naturals” rather than those recognised for their hard work and determination.

Chia’s research not only exposes this bias but also offers insights on how to mitigate its effects. By understanding the bias, we can challenge it and create fairer assessments of individuals’ abilities and achievements. The smartest solution, then, may be to give a more nuanced picture of our success without focusing exclusively on one element or the other. 

Also featured in the article for their work in this space was UCL School of Management’s Clarissa Cortland. Speaking at the Annual Convention of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Clarissa shared the results of a survey examining the attitudes of 6,000 university alumni working as business leaders. She found that when describing their own career journey around 80% focused on their ability to work hard over their natural talent, this increased when they were asked to describe their journeys to others. Clarissa said: “There’s an instinctive shift to ‘striver descriptions’ when self-presentational motives are high.” this could be for many reasons, one would be to appear less arrogant and more of a team player. 

Check out the BBC Worklife article

Last updated Tuesday, 18 July 2023