People with negative attitudes may not be the most popular folks at the office, but they may have an unexpected advantage when it comes to developing expertise at work.
Researchers made the discovery by dividing people into two groups to study: "likers," or people found to have positive dispositional attitudes in a personality test, and "haters," or those with negative dispositional attitudes.
Then they studied how each group spent its time. In one study, participants recorded all the activities they did in a week, and in another study, participants used a free response time survey.
The findings, published in the journal Social Psychology by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Pennsylvania, show that likers (positive attitude) enjoyed a wider variety of things and tended to do more different things during the week, while haters (negative attitude) enjoyed fewer things and did fewer things.
However, both groups were active for about the same amount of time, suggesting that the likers crammed more activities into their days, while haters spent more time on each activity.
The researchers suggested two ways of looking at that finding: "Compared with likers, haters could be characterized as less active because they do fewer things, or they could be characterized as more focused because they spend more time on the small number of things they do."
Likers may seem more productive if they are busy with many things, but being more focused on fewer activities could help haters develop greater expertise in their chosen field.
"Likers may adopt a jack-of-all-trades approach to life, investing small amounts of time in a wide variety of activities. This would leave them somewhat skilled at many tasks," said a statement from the University of Pennsylvania.
"In contrast, when haters find an activity they actually like, they may invest a larger amount of time in that task, allowing them to develop a higher skill level."