Persuasion Matters

Do Companies Have Personalities Too?

It’s well known that people have personalities.  I’ll bet you can easily list a few people you’d rather not spend time with simply because their personalities mesh poorly with yours.  Since companies are essentially a function of the people who work there, do corporations have personalities, too?

Yep, they do.  At least that’s what research says.  The public –our universal jury pool– perceives businesses as having distinct characteristics.  Otto, Chater and Stott (2011) released a study addressing this very issue.

I won’t bore you with the details of the design and methodology of the study, but generally the research was conducted in phases whereby thousands of people were asked to brainstorm company names and to brainstorm descriptives for those companies.  The goal was to have participants generate the data without being led or guided in any way.  After multiple phases, the researchers identified 118 adjectives that were –after more research– whittled down to four “personality” dimensions:

  1. Honesty
  2. Prestige
  3. Innovation
  4. Power

According to Otto, et al., the general public evaluates companies and corporations according to these four psychological dimensions.  Much like we associate these with human personality, they are also used to characterize businesses.

My inner geek found data revealed in an earlier paper (Otto, et al., 2006) that provided the raw correlation scores in a similar study (in fact, it may have been the same!).  The four psychological dimensions were correlated with four key business characteristics: (1) Size (total assets employed; (2) Evaluation (market to book value); (3) Growth (three-year growth in sales); and (4) Profit (pre-tax profit).

In a nutshell, the researchers found that businesses categorized as having “Prestige” showed a strong correlation to companies that were large in size (0.56)  and very profitable (0.75).  Companies falling into the “Innovation” dimension showed a correlation to those well-known for growth (0.52).  Of some interest is data pertaining to “Honesty”: all correlations were negative but for a small measure of evaluation (0.13), which suggests that honesty is a more subjective perception and not associated with any measurable dimensions.

So, what to do with this information?

The dimensions could have some interesting implications for jury selection and supplemental juror questionnaires.

What if jurors were asked to rank companies –including the ones involved in the litigation– on a likert scale for any of all of the psychological dimensions?  For example:

“Do you consider the following companies to be prestigious?  On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 being low and 5 being high), please rank the companies according to their prestige.”

If Google were my client, I might also list Apple, Microsoft, AT&T and Verizon.  All of the companies are large, but burying my client in with other companies might help distinguish any differences in perception between my client and the other corporations.

If a juror ranked the corporation you were representing high on Prestige, it could very well indicate that he views the company as profitable due to the strong correlation between Prestige and profit in the study.   It could also indicate a belief that the business has deep pockets.  However, it could also suggest that the juror views the business as large in size and a potential Goliath in the courtroom.

Of course, sometimes, it’s better to blatantly ask what you really want to know:  “Do you believe Company has deep pockets?” or “Do you believe Company is a corporate giant?”  But, in the event you are prevented from including such a a matter-of-fact query on the jury questionnaire (or just don’t want to take such a bold position), assessing views on Prestige may allow you to measure the same perception in a more subtle manner.


Otto, P., Chater, N., and Stott, H. (2011). The psychological representation of corporate ‘personality’. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 25 (4), 605-614 DOI: 10.1002/acp.1729

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