workplace psychology

People Unconsciously Value Natural Talent Over Hard Work

Businessman with Feet Up in Office
Photo: Michael Goldman/Corbis

There are times in life when it unfortunately becomes necessary to engage in some light self-promotion: a job interview, a (blech) networking event, or, if you are an entrepreneur, a meeting with potential investors. In these situations, is it smarter to talk yourself up by including anecdotes about how hard you work, or stories that suggest your achievements mostly come from natural ability? Here’s a little secret for you: No one really cares about how hard you work. 

That’s according to a new paper in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, summarized recently over at The Economist like so:

In an experiment, [Chia-Jung Tsay of University College London] presented would-be investors with profiles of a group of fictional entrepreneurs, including attributes such as their leadership experience, management skills, IQ and the amount of capital they had raised. In one variant of the experiment, it was hinted that each entrepreneur had reached his position more through natural ability or talent. In another variant, it was stated explicitly that they were either naturals or strivers, though the investors were not told that this was the factor of most interest to the researcher. The study then calculated how much, on average, the investors would be willing to trade off any of the entrepreneurs’ other attributes in order to choose a natural or a striver.

The researchers also included in their paper exactly what the hard workers would have to have to match the appeal of those with apparent natural ability, including four and a half more years of management experience and 28 more IQ points. And yet this appears to be an unconscious bias, because before the experiment began, people told the researchers they preferred hard workers. “Together, these … studies show that people tend to pass over better-qualified individuals in favor of apparent naturals,” the researchers write. Another reason to not be so smug about the long hours you’re putting in at the office

People Value Natural Talent Over Hard Work