Message processing in realistic recruitment practices.
The purpose of the present study is to simultaneously examine how information is presented by organizations and processed by perspective job applicants, and the effect each has on attitudes towards a target job. We focus on the moderating effect of individual differences in need for cognition (NFC), on the processing of framed recruitment messages and source credibility during realistic job previews (RJPs). First, the RJP literature is reviewed and then the theoretical background of the research will be discussed. An experimental study is then presented which investigates the interactive effects of need for cognition, message framing and source credibility.
REALISTIC JOB PREVIEWS
Most of the concern with staffing organizations involves getting matches between job candidates' capabilities and organizational requirements on the one hand and the job candidates' wants and needs and organizational climates and culture on the other (Wanous et al, 1992). RJPs have been extensively researched by McEvoy and Casio (1987), Premack and Wanous (1985), Wanous (1977, 1980), Wanous et al. (1992), and Phillips (1998). The primary focus of RJP research is employee retention with a secondary interest in applicant attraction (Rynes, 1992). Researchers interested in retention rates focus on hypotheses concerning serf-selection, while researchers interested in early work adjustment are generally concerned with met expectations. The self-selection hypothesis posits that matching individual needs with organizational climates lowers turnover rates by producing a better fit between individual and organizational characteristics (Wanous, 1980). The met expectations hypothesis posits that individuals are less likely to quit once they have been "inoculated" or given realistic information about the job as employees tend to be less dissatisfied because early job experiences match pre-employment expectations. It is clear, however, that these two hypotheses are not mutually exclusive and their effective integration may promote personnel recruitment that is ultimately more successful.
Theories about RJPs share a basic assumption that the message is received and processed by the applicant. The process of how different applicants receive and process information may be subject to individual differences in cognitive styles. Thus, understanding the factors that influence both message reception and message composition becomes necessary for understanding the process of RJPs. "A fundamental question that remains unanswered about RJPs concerns when and in what form their messages are processed most effectively by applicants, so that they experience the greatest changes in attitudes and expectations about previewed jobs and organizations and in their resulting behavior" (Phillips, 1998: 673).
Tversky and Kahneman (1981) examined choices between two strategies for dealing with an emergency situation in which a fixed number of lives would be lost unless one of the strategies was adapted to the exclusion of the others. Choices differed depending on whether the strategies were described in terms of how likely a given number of lives would be saved with each strategy (positive out come) or how likely a given number of lives would be lost with each strategy (negative outcome), even though the objective information was the same in each case. Prospect theory (Kahneman and Tversky, 1979) was used to explain the obtained results. This theory suggests that there are two major outcomes about the effect of framing a decision problem in gain versus loss terms. First, it holds that people are risk-averse when a decision problem is formulated in terms of gain and risk-prone when the problem is formulated in terms of loss. Second, it suggests that people exhibit loss aversion; that is, that losses loom larger than gains (Tversky and Kahneman, 1981). Tversky and Kahneman illustrated the effects of framing by asking subjects to "imagine that the U.S. is preparing for an outbreak of an unusual Asian disease which is expected to kill 600 people" (1981: 453). In choosing between two positively framed alternative programs with equal expected values, 72 percent of the subjects preferred program A which would save 200 people over Program B which would have a one-third probability of saving 600 people and a two-thirds probability of saving no people. However, in choosing between the same two programs that were negatively framed, a second group of subjects reversed this preference. Seventy-eight percent of the subjects preferred to adopt Program D (equivalent to Program B) that had a one-third probability that no one would die over program C (equivalent to Program A) where 400 people would die. Although the objective state remained constant between the two subject groups, a preference reversal was demonstrated due to the change in framing.
When RJPs are constructed, messages may be imbedded that are either positively or negatively framed. A positively framed message is a message that emphasizes a job's advantages and/or the potential gains to the applicant resulting from the acceptance of the job. A negatively framed message accentuates the potential losses to the applicants if a wrong decision is made or a specific job is not chosen. Because it is desirable to keep qualified applicants in the hiring pool as long as possible, many organizational recruiters take the position of selling a job to an applicant much like selling a product or service to a prospective customer, leading to an over-reliance on the use of positive messages. This practice finds its way into the construction of RJPs and adversely affects the intent of the preview. It is likely that positively framed messages would not lead to lower expectations. In fact, it may negate the "inoculation effect." Additionally, it is equally possible that applicants may not select themselves out of the hiring pool in the pre-hire phase of recruitment when confronted with only or overwhelming positive messages. In either case it is possible that positive messaging on the part of the recruiters, while seeming to promote effective recruiting, may actually impede it.
Hypothesis 1: There will be a lowering of expectations as a result of experiencing a RJP.
It is proposed here that individual differences in ability and desire to exert cognitive effort determine the effect of message framing on an individual's judgements. It has long been acknowledged in attitude research that individual differences cause variations in attitudes (Underwood and Shaughnessy, 1975). Researchers have noted that factors used to manipulate the extent to which attitudes are based on issue-relevant thinking sometimes account for only a small portion of variance. This is theoretically due, in part, to systematic individual differences among people in their desire to engage in issue-relevant thinking when they form their attitudes (Cacioppo et al., 1984). The contemporary conceptualization of such a desire has been known as an individual's need for cognition, which is defined as the statistical tendency and intrinsic enjoyment individuals derive from engaging in effortful information processing (Cacioppo and Petty, 1982).
Smith and Petty (1996) illustrated how framing and need for cognition may be utilized in a study. They had subjects read an advertisement for the purpose of evaluating it. The framing manipulation was in the form of a headline for the ad. The positive frame was "Vitamin K Helps You Live a Longer, Healthier Life." The negative frame was "Not taking Vitamin K Can Lead to Illnesses that Shorten Life Spans." The authors demonstrated that differential processing of positively and negatively framed messages is a factor and contributes to differential persuasiveness. By manipulating the expected framing and the actual framing of messages, Smith and Petty (1996) found that either negatively or positively framed messages could lead to more extensive processing, depending on which was less expected. When low need for cognition (LNFC) subjects were led to anticipate a positively framed message, negatively framed messages elicited greater message scrutiny than positively framed messages. The results were reversed when they expected negatively framed information. The results suggest that LNFC participants, who typically do not like to exert cognitive effort, engage in minimal message processing when their expectancies are confirmed but increase their level of message scrutiny when their expectancies about a message are disconfirmed (Smith and Petty, 1996).
In the work context, understanding systematic individual differences in need for cognition may help employers anticipate the effectiveness of message framing in the applicant pool. It is argued that individuals who are intrinsically interested in analyzing and processing discrete pieces of information and enjoy thinking about job-related informational cues are less likely to form their attitude about the job based on the framing of the RJP message. They should be more inclined to form their attitude based on the merit of the factual information contained in the message rather than being influenced by how such information is communicated to them. In contrast, individuals who tend to enjoy the outcome rather than the process of thinking and prefer to think only as hard as necessary will be less motivated to analyze the facts or arguments presented in the RJP. Instead, they will be more likely to base their evaluation of the job on peripheral cues in the message (Cacioppo et al., 1996). Examples of such cues include a highly credible spokesperson or a positively framed message. For example, the presence of a positively framed message may lead to more positive evaluation of the job by such an audience.
In fact, this process can be understood through the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) of persuasion (Petty and Cacioppo, 1986). According to this model, when individuals are able and motivated to engage in more in-depth and extensive information processing, persuasion results from the presence of issue-relevant information (via the central route to persuasion). When individuals are relatively unmotivated or unable to process issue-relevant information, attitude changes may still occur if peripheral cues are present (via the peripheral route to persuasion). In this study a peripheral cue is an element of the message that is not directly related to the merit of the job. The positive or negative framing of the RIP message may thus serve as a peripheral cue. Based on the ELM, the effect of message framing may depend upon the specific processing invoked by the message recipient. The level of need for cognition of the applicant can determine whether an applicant will invoke central-route or peripheral-route processing at the time of the RIP (Cacioppo et al., 1986). When the applicant has a high need for cognition, the central-route will be invoked and the cogency of the message argument, not framing, determines job evaluation. However, when the peripheral route is invoked by the applicants low in need for cognition, the effect of message framing becomes more salient, thereby influencing an individual's evaluation of the job. Hence, individual differences in need for cognition influence the strength of the relationship between an independent variable (framed message) and a dependent variable (job attitudes). Ignoring such moderating variables had led to an incomplete understanding of the effects of message framing in RJPs.
Hypothesis 2: Expectations will be significantly lower for LNFC subjects who experience a negatively framed RIP.
Understandably, the effects of communicator characteristics on the persuasiveness of communicated messages have been of interest to recruiters. Recruitment messages are usually designed as persuasive messages. It has been well documented that communicators with positive attributes are more persuasive than communicators with less positive attributes (Eagly and Chaiken, 1993). Therefore, source variables may also act as a moderator influencing the impact of a persuasive message.
According to researchers, source credibility is determined by both the source's trustworthiness and expertise (Dholakia and Sternthal, 1977). The persuasive impact of the message is typically diminished whenever recipients attribute reporting or knowledge biases to the source (Eagley et al., 1978). When source credibility is perceived as low, recipients will discount the claims or arguments made in the message. Conversely, when source credibility is perceived to be high, recipients understandably tend to counterargue less with the claims and are therefore more easily influenced by the message (Grewal et al., 1994). This phenomenon may also be applicable to RIPs. Whether a message comes from a member of human resources, an executive, or an authentic worker may make a difference as to how the information is perceived and what is done with it.
It appears logical to anticipate a source credibility effect in message framing. In other words, a message recipient will try to determine, when presented with a framed message, who is the source of the message and how trustworthy is the source. Based on the rationale of the ELM and the need for cognition construct, it would be reasonable to expect that LNFC subjects would be more ready to rely on source characteristics to make a judgement about the job under consideration than would HNFC subjects, since the latter are more likely to consider specific job attributes or claims before finalizing judgement. In fact, the effects of need for cognition and message framing suggest a three-way interaction between message framing, need for cognition, and source credibility.
Hypothesis 3: RJP messages presented by a high credibility source will result in significantly more positive attitudes than messages by a low credibility source. Hypothesis 4: Compared to high need-for-cognition subjects, responses of low need-for cognition subjects will be influenced by peripheral cues including message framing and source credibility.
Subjects and Design
Two hundred undergraduate students who were management majors from a northeastern university participated in this study. The student sample consisted of 53% female, mean age of 19.3, completed 54 credits on average, no relevant work experience (minor jobs, fast food, etc.), and was 26% minority. A random ordering of experimental packets assigned students to each of the experimental conditions in a factorial design consisting of source credibility (expert/ non-expert) and message framing (positive/negative). Assignment of subjects into levels of the third factor, need for cognition (high/low), was based on their responses to the short Form of the Need for Cognition Scale (NCS), assessed one month before reviewing the RJP.
One month before the RJP, the NCS short form (see Cacioppo et al. (1984) for information on development and Cacioppo et al. (1996) for evidence concerning NCS's reliability and validity) was administered to 200 subjects. Subjects were rank-ordered and split at the median. The median score in this study was 3.4 on a five-point scale.
One-month later subjects were given a packet with instructions, a box advertisement for a management position from the New York Times, a detailed job description of that position and a realistic job preview in written form detailing what a typical day at work is like for this job. Rating scales were provided twice during the procedure--once after the subjects read the box ad and job description and again after they read the RJP. Subjects were told that as part of ongoing research conducted by the management department at the university we were interested in their opinions about various management jobs available on the open market. All manipulations were embedded in the RJP. All ratings were completed in less than fifteen minutes. An adaptation of the formulation technique used by Davis and Bobko (1986) was employed for the framing effects. Framing effects were created by giving half of the subjects information that was positively framed (i.e., "Eighty-five percent of the employees who do this job are satisfied with the job and organization"). The other half were given information that was negatively framed (i.e., "Fifteen percent of the employees who do this job are dissatisfied with the job and organization"). Credibility of the source was manipulated by presenting half of the subjects with information that either incumbents (high credibility) or recruiters (low credibility) were presenting the information in the RJP.
Based on our concern with the pre-hiring phase of recruitment, job attitudes are used as the dependent measures. Expectations were included in the study only to determine the effectiveness of the RJP. After reading the box ad and job description, subjects completed measures assessing the attractiveness of the job, their willingness to accept a job offer, and their expectations about the job. Each of the dependent measures was assessed on three seven-point semantic differential scales. For attractiveness, bad/good, not nice/nice, and unlikable/likeable were used. Unlikely/likely, improbable/probable and impossible/possible were used for willingness to accept a job offer (job acceptance). For expectations, bad/good, low/high, and unsuccessful/successful were used. For each of the attitude measures a composite score (numerical average of the three scales) was then computed. Since the correlations between attractiveness, acceptance and expectations were high, these were further combined into one dependent variable called job attitudes (alpha = .87).
In order to check the manipulation on credibility of the source and message flaming, fifty-two undergraduate students participated in a pilot study. The procedure for the pilot was the same as the full experiment. Subjects were asked to rate the RIP presenters on four semantic differential scales (not open-minded/open-minded, not expert/expert, not experienced/experienced, not trained/trained). A composite score was derived and analyzed. Subjects found experts (workers) more credible than non-experts (recruiters) (t(1,51) = 6.45, p < .001). Message framing was checked by conducting another pilot. An incumbent's job satisfaction was framed (85% satisfied; 15% dissatisfied) in an RJP. Subject's expectations about the job were then assessed on three semantic differential scales (see above). The results were significant for message framing (t(1,51) = 2.90, p < .001), indicating that the manipulations were effective in this small sample.
In order to determine if the realistic job preview was effective, paired t-tests were used to examine expectations between the two administrations of the rating scales. It was expected that means on the second administration would be significantly lower.
Analyses were conducted on the first set of ratings (pre-RJP) for the purpose of establishing that there were no differences between experimental groups on the pre-measures. The remaining analyses were conducted on data collected from the second set of rating scales only. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to analyze the main effects, and interactions with follow-up simple effects analysis was used to test specific hypotheses.
The overall effect of the RJP on job attitudes was tested by conducting an ANOVA on all groups in the Pre-RJP condition. The results indicated no significant differences among any of the groups concerning job attitudes on the main effects of source credibility, message framing and need for cognition as well as any interaction effects concerning these independent variables. That is, there were no differences among experimental conditions on the "pre-test" measures.
Tests of Hypotheses
Table 1 indicates the results of the t-tests conducted on expectations before and after the RJP was administered. As hypothesized, expectations had been significantly lowered after reading the RJP, thereby supporting Hypothesis 1. In addition, subjects who experienced negatively framed information had significantly lower expectations than those who experienced positively framed information, lending support to Hypothesis 2.
Table 2 presents the means and standard deviations of all of the Post-RJP conditions. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) results shown in Table 3 indicate significant main effects for message framing (positive, M = 5.57 vs negative, M = 4.77) and need for cognition (HNFC, M = 4.98 vs. LNFC, M = 5.36), and significant interaction effects for source credibility by NFC and message framing by NFC. In addition, a three-way interaction effect was significant for source credibility by message framing by NFC. The hypothesized source credibility effect did not emerge; therefore, Hypothesis 3 (which suggested that information presented by a high credibility source would result in significantly greater means than information presented by a low credibility source) was not supported. The rejection of source credibility as a main effect suggests the importance of understanding moderating influences by other variables.
Hypothesis 4 indicated that compared to high need-for-cognition subjects, responses of low need-for-cognition subjects would be influenced by peripheral cues including message framing and source credibility. An examination of Table 2 and Figure I indicates a significant three-way interaction effect between need for cognition, message framing and source credibility.
The simple effects analysis reveals that LNFC subjects (M = 4.68) rated job attitudes significantly lower than HNFC subjects (M = 5.80) when RJP messages were positively framed and given by non-experts and when RJP messages were negatively framed and given by a low credibility source (HNFC, M = 5.41 vs. LNFC, M = 3.77). An additional significant finding was that LNFC subjects (M = 6.17) rated job attitudes significantly higher than HNFC subjects (M = 4.88) when the RJP messages was positively framed and given by a high credibility source, and no differences were found between HNFC (M = 5.10) and LNFC (M = 4.55) attitudes for negatively framed messages presented by a high credibility source. There is a two-way interaction when there is a high credibility source but there is no two-way interaction when there is a low credibility source. When a low credibility source presents an RJP, LNFC subjects always have less favorable attitudes about the job. But when the RJP is presented by a high credibility source, LNFC subjects have more positive attitudes than HNFC subjects when the message is positively framed; they have less favorable attitudes when the message is negatively framed. In general, the significant findings by these interaction effects tend to support Hypothesis 4.
Results from this study indicate that framing did have a significant influence on subjects' responses to the RJP. The results corroborate earlier findings that message framing (i.e., "the glass is either half empty of half full") influences decisions. In this study, we employed measures of perceptions of attractiveness of the job, willingness to accept a job offer and expectations. Such knowledge is undoubtedly useful to recruiters who are interested in maximizing the impact of their recruitment dollars. Yet more important to the understanding of the message framing effect is the identification of variables which may either enhance or attenuate the effect of message framing.
In this regard, two moderators were introduced in this process in the form of the credibility of the source and the message recipient's need for cognition (NFC). Encouraging results were obtained on NFC functioning as a potential moderator of the message framing effect. This moderating effect of NFC is of particular interest to this study since it has been demonstrated that the NFC state is a more omnipresent characteristic of individuals to whom recruiters try to appeal and persuade. In the field of social psychology, Cacioppo et al., (1986) suggested that the choice of how messages are processed (central-route vs. peripheral route) could be determined by the level of need for cognition of the recipients at the time they apply for the job. The results of this study indicate that the peripheral-route process more likely invoked by LNFC individuals is particularly important for the effectiveness of framed RJPs. The effect of the message framing became more salient under the LNFC condition and significant differences were detected on job attitudes between positively framed and negatively framed messages, with clear implications for effect recruiting. However, it is also worth noting that for LNFC individuals there seemed to be an asymmetry with regard to message framing. That is, negatively framed RJPs disproportionately lowered LNFC subjects' evaluations of the job. In other words, LNFC subjects were more susceptible to the influence of a negatively framed message.
For HNFC subjects the impact of message framing was much less remarkable. Indeed, HNFC subjects even rated the job with a negatively framed message slightly more attractive than the same job with a positively framed message. It is entirely possible that other factors such as the quality of the message rather than message framing may have played a part in HNFC subjects' evaluation. However, this study did not specifically address this issue.
Taken together, these results seem to suggest that recruiters who seek effective personnel acquisition should take note of audience members' personal characteristics such as their cognitive predisposition when employing framed advertising messages in their ads and perhaps also presentations. At least with samples such as those used in this study, recruiters should exercise caution when framing their RJP messages. They may refrain from using negatively framed messages became such audience may heuristically infer that the negativity in the message framing suggests an unattractive job. However, doing this creates another problem. Not using negatively framed messages at some point in the RJP may negate the purpose of the realistic recruitment message. It is not always possible to know the level of need for cognition of the target applicant, although indicators such as education level or an effort to prescreen applicants can be used. Nevertheless, knowing how applicant's process the information they are receiving and their subsequent decisions based upon the method of processing can be an important piece of the realistic recruitment puzzle and one of the keys to effective recruitment.
The other moderator variable was source credibility of the framed message. The hypothesized main effect for credibility was clearly attenuated by subjects' need for cognition. However, source credibility still played a significant role as a moderator in this study as evidenced by the source credibility by NFC interaction. It suggests some subjects do consider source as a criterion for their decision making, and it may be a viable strategy consideration when presenting framed information to potential job applicants.
It is interesting to note that source credibility did not interact significantly with message framing but it did, to some extent, with need for cognition. The findings in this study may give us some indication when source is considered in job evaluation by applicants. It appears that, on balance, credibility of the source mattered for both HNFC and LNFC subjects. LNFC subjects who received information from non-experts (recruiters) generally scored lower on job attitudes than those who received information from experts (incumbents), while HNFC subject's ratings were reversed. The fact that LNFC subjects attended to source presented by recruiters more than information presented by incumbents may give us reason to suspect that individual differences in need for cognition moderates the presentation of peripheral information cues. LNFC subjects in this study were easily influenced by a non-expert source and may have possibly responded less favorably because the credibility source (recruiter) was perceived as untrustworthy. HNFC subjects were more influenced by non-experts but only for positively framed messages, perhaps taking more of a central route of information processing and attending more to the relevant issues in evaluating the job.
Limitations and Future Research
While the authors believe that this study has made a contribution to the literature on realistic job previews and why RJPs may have a differential affect on the participants, it has its limitations. The first limitation is that it is a laboratory study and the generalizability of the findings to the field is limited. Second, the subjects were college students and were pre-tested on need for cognition before being assigned to the various experimental conditions. In practice, this is not usually done in industry and requires some expertise that may be beyond the competencies of the average human resource staff in an organization. Finally, since this study is one of a kind, there is a need to replicate the findings and expand upon the concept that message processing is an important issue in realistic job previews. This study also suggests that further examination is needed on subjects' cognitive processes that may influence how they make decisions. This research has opened several questions that should be investigated. The role of individual cognitive differences among job applicants may be the next step in the process. For example, does the ability to attend to information moderate other cognitive processes such as recalling information from memory? In addition, is there an emotional component that may interact with job seekers' ability to recall and use information presented to them? Future research may need to consider these more abstract cognitive variables. Understanding the influence of the variables discussed above may have implications for how job information is received. For example, after recruitment, the new employee receives all kinds of in formation regarding the job and the firm (e.g., procedures, legends, company mythology, current gossip). The management may itself use one or more of these means to disseminate information. It would seem that increasing understanding of how information is received in terms of these variables would be extremely useful for insuring the communication's effectiveness.
TABLE 1 Tests of Hypotheses 1a and 1b Source Mean sd. Df t Expectations Pre-RJP 4.91 1.52 Post-RJP 4.40 1.08 199 1.70 * Post-RJP Positive Frame 5.06 1.03 Negative Frame 3.75 1.14 198 8.82 *** Note: * = p < .05, *** = p < .001 TABLE 2 Subjects' Means and Standard Deviations for Job Attitude Ratings High Need for Cognition Low Need for Cognition Message Expert Non-expert Expert Non-expert Marginal Source Source Source Source Source Mean & Sd. Positive Mean 4.88 5.80 6.17 4.68 5.57 Message Framing Sd. 1.33 0.72 0.82 0.87 1.07 Negative Mean 5.10 5.41 4.55 3.77 4.77 Message Framing Sd. 0.77 1.76 1.28 1.58 1.50 Total Mean 5.03 5.61 5.59 4.21 5.16 Sd. 0.97 1.33 1.26 1.36 1.36 TABLE 3 Results of an Analysis of Variance and Simple Effects Analysis on Job Attitudes Source df MS F Need for Cognition (A) 1 11.85 8.73 ** Source Credibility (B) 1 3.11 2.92 Message Framing (C) 1 21.26 15.67 *** A x B 1 35.38 26.09 *** A x B(1) 1 8.86 4.88 * A x B(2) 1 45.54 27.92 ** A x C 1 16.01 11.81 ** A x C(1) 1 1.30 .70 A x C(2) 1 24.16 13.89 *** B x C 1 .02 .02 A x B x C 1 6.05 4.46 * A x B(1) x C(1) 1 33.60 19.86 *** A x B(1) x C(2) 1 2.15 1.16 A x B(2) x C(1) 1 16.52 9.29 ** A x B(2) x C(2) 1 29.82 17.44 *** Error 192 Total 199 * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001
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Associate Professor of Management
Bruce H. Charnov
Associate Professor of Management
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|Author:||Buda, Richard; Charnov, Bruce H.|
|Publication:||Journal of Managerial Issues|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2003|
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