The paradoxical mind and body : physiological and neurological responses to organizational paradoxes
Date of Issue2019-08-07
College of Business (Nanyang Business School)
Our experiences in organizations are fundamentally paradoxical. Organizational paradox theorists advocate that individuals’ experience with paradoxes depend on whether they are comfortable with paradoxes and whether they embrace paradoxes. However, while paradox theorists allude to distinct emotional and cognitive components of individuals’ subjective experience with paradox, it remains inconclusive of how the distinct aspects of an individual’s mindset shape their experience. By directly investigating individuals’ physiological and neurological responses to paradox, I open up the emotional and cognitive black boxes. I empirically reveal how individuals’ paradox mindset (i.e., a disposition towards embracing and feeling comfortable with paradoxes) alleviates individuals’ physiological arousal yet promotes their cognitive engagement in a creative production setting. In my first study, I employed a skin-conductance method to record individuals’ physiological arousal they exhibited when they were instructed to fulfill competing demands in design tasks. In study 2, I employed an eye-tracking method to record individuals’ visual attention as a proxy of their cognitive engagement when fulfilling competing demands. Finally, in study 3, I built insights from the laboratory studies to explore how entrepreneurial architects were able to excel in completing competing demands by being more comfortable with and more engaged in the paradoxes of their daily work. By revealing how the brain and the body responds to paradoxes in the laboratory and then corroborating the laboratory findings in the field, my thesis findings suggest that the mindset that enables individuals to respond to paradoxes requires both arousal-reducing emotional comforting and high cognitive engagement, and thus is, in itself, paradoxical.