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research roundup

After a carbon tax was introduced, gas consumption in British Columbia dropped between 2008 and 2011, according to data collected by Brandon Schaufele, assistant professor in business, economics and public policy at Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario and Nicholas Rivers, Canada research chair in climate and energy policy at the University of Ottawa.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Gas prices rise and fall constantly. Most of the time, drivers grin and bear it, gassing up regardless of fluctuating prices. But one factor in British Columbia seems to have caused drivers to change their relationship with the automobile: the province's carbon tax.

The tax, which was introduced in 2008 for consumers and businesses alike who used any carbon-producing product, caused a bump in the price of gas by as much as 6 cents a litre, according to data collected by Brandon Schaufele, assistant professor in business, economics and public policy at Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario and Nicholas Rivers, Canada research chair in climate and energy policy at the University of Ottawa. Gas consumption in the province between 2008 and 2011 dropped – and more than it normally would because of an everyday price hike – according to the researchers.

"In general, people don't respond a heck of a lot to gas prices," Dr. Schaufele says. "This tax shifted the demand curve; the policy made people change their behaviour." The researchers believe the underlying reason for the price hike – to benefit the environment – is the reason why consumers changed their driving behaviours.

The data showed consumer behaviour was affected seven times more than normal. For individuals, that meant small changes, such as taking the bus or biking a few times a week, or taking the family hatchback instead of the SUV. The real household difference: about a tank of gas a year.

Those little changes added up to B.C. residents buying 3.6 million tonnes less gas over the duration of the study – more than 85 per cent of that reduction in demand was different from normal and had something to do with how people felt about the carbon tax.

The researchers considered the possibility that drivers could be visiting pumps in the United States, or that a provincial vehicle retirement program could have led to more efficient cars on the road, but they concluded these factors did not greatly impact the dip in demand.

Gas prices have now plummeted across the country and recent data suggests demand in B.C. has risen, and Dr. Schaufele says longer-view research could reveal more about factors affecting fuel-consumption behaviour.

This paper was published on the Social Science Research Network as part of its working papers series.

Narcissists at work

James Meurs begins his recent paper on narcissists in the workplace with one zinger of a stat: 75 per cent of people at one time or another have stolen from their employer.

The assistant professor of human resources and organizational dynamics at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary is interested in "under what context or what people are going to be successful at work and under what context and what people are going to do bad things at work."

So he looked at whether narcissists – people with an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others – are more likely to engage in counterproductive work behaviours than others, particularly when under stress. He wanted to know: Do they do bad work on purpose, steal, withhold work from others or insult co-workers when the chips are down?

Dr. Meurs surveyed 515 older university students in the United States who were also employed to find out whether they had narcissistic qualities and whether they ever stirred up trouble on the job.

It turns out that those who scored high for narcissistic personality qualities were not more troublesome at work. That is, until stressful situations hit.

"The way I think about it is: narcissists have an inflated ego, but it's a very fragile ego. If they're successful, everything is great and everyone is fine. But if you threaten that ego or take away that need for control, then it goes really, really bad."

There are many aspects of narcissism, but his work suggests that the vanity, self-absorption and attention-grabbing ways of what's known as the "grandiose exhibitionism" aspect were the most damaging. In fact, it was just this quality that was associated with counterproductive work behaviour.

But other narcissistic qualities have considerable value: Leaders in business and politics need a lot of confidence and a sense of self importance to take risks, hold firm to their ideas and stand up in front of large crowds.

While employers now want to weed out people who might be a problem on the job, Dr. Meurs suggests employers think twice, as narcissists can contribute positively to the workplace, too.

"We need diversity in order to be successful. If you have some narcissistic tendencies, maybe you could receive training or certain kinds of supports. Maybe you can mitigate some of the bad parts and take advantage of the more positive sides."

This study was published in the journal Work & Stress.

Online disaster recovery

A massive 8.0 magnitude earthquake in China in 2008 knocked out many communication systems and severe aftershocks limited people's ability to gather together.

But people managed to orchestrate a response to the disaster, despite the absence of a central organizer.

Ning Nan, assistant professor in management information systems at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia, studies, among other things, how people use technology to organize themselves, and she theorized it is possible for people to manage crises without a central emergency response organizer.

Dr. Nan used raw data collected by Yong Lu of Pennsylvania State University from thousands of messages exchanged on a university's electronic discussion board during that 2008 earthquake. The pair got coders to weed out all communications not related to the earthquake, then sorted through 80,000 messages to find out what happened.

Her theory about self-organized crisis management held. "We could see that these users basically organized themselves."

Students followed similar steps as a leader would: assessing the situation, collecting information, making plans, reporting back.

They kept trolls, or upsetting and disruptive online posters, at bay by rewarding positive comments with more comments, and dismissing negative ones by ignoring them or encouraging each other to buck up.

They also rooted out the impractical ideas for offering help and applauded giving out food and blankets, and offering tutoring to high school students preparing for the upcoming national exam. "The difference was if the central administration was involved, they would not have come up with so many diverse ideas, and there would not be so many involved," Dr. Nan says.

In her paper, Dr. Nan recommends that organizations keep electronic communications tools running in times of crisis. Even if leaders have a plan, unorganized groups of people can come up with great ideas, keep each other in line and bring buy-in.

This research was published in MIS Quarterly.