Portrait image for Jennifer Whitson

Jennifer Whitson

Associate Professor of Management and Organizations
“Strategy is better based on reality, not tempting illusions.”
Areas of Expertise:
  • Control
  • Illusory Pattern Perception
  • Power
  • Reciprocity
  • Rewards & Punishments
  • Sensemaking
  • Stigma


Jennifer Whitson is an associate professor of management and organizations at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Prior to joining Anderson, she served as assistant professor at McCombs School of Business, University of Texas at Austin.

“Broadly, I study control,” says Whitson: “how people react when they lack it, how they try to gain more of it and how they exert it over others. I’ve always been interested in how people make sense of the world, both when they get it right and when they get it wrong.”

Whitson’s work establishes a critical relationship between the psychological experience of lacking control and what she calls illusory pattern perception. When people feel out of control, they connect dots that there is no rationale for connecting, such as believing in conspiracy theories or superstitions. “A lack of control drives people to seek structure in their environment, even if this means seeing patterns that don’t exist,” says Whitson.

Her work also demonstrates that the implications of control extend beyond areas in which control has been previously studied, and they carry a business cost. The downstream effects of a manager’s exercising power through rewards and punishments, for instance, influences others’ behaviors. Whitson finds that different managers will respond to the same behaviors with different punishments. “Depending on the culture and context that they’re operating in, some managers prefer directly punishing people, while others react by instead withdrawing social support — actions that can have very different results for the organization,” she says. “Understanding control’s role in human psychology can empower managers and organizations in this increasingly volatile and uncertain world.”

Another branch of Whitson’s research explores how members of stigmatized groups who lack control over the way they are seen by the dominant society regain that control through reappropriation — that is, by self-identifying with terms used by others as slurs. Group identification, she finds, is a critical component in reappropriating stigmatizing labels. By exploring how members of stigmatized groups strategically weaken the tools used to disempower and demean them, her research seeks to shed light on how groups can manage conflict in organizations and in society.

Whitson’s scholarly work has been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals and garnered international media coverage. She has appeared on CBS Morning News, National Public Radio, Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman and National Geographic’s Brain Games.


Organizational Behavior

Leadership Foundations


Communications II


Ph.D. Management and Organizations, 2007, Northwestern University

M.S. Management and Organizations, 2004, Northwestern University

B.A. Psychology and Social Behavior, 2000, University of California, Irvine

Published Papers

Dow, B., Johnson, A., Wang, C. S., Whitson, J. A., and Menon, T. (in press). The COVID-19 pandemic and the search for structure: Social media and conspiracy theories. Social and Personality Psychology Compass.

Wang, C. S., Whitson, J. A., King, B., & Ramirez, R. (in press). Social movements, collective identity, and workplace allies: The labeling of gender equity policy changes. Organization Science.

Pai, J., Whitson, J. A., Kim, J., & Lee, S. (2021). A relational account of powerlessness: The role of the attachment system in inaction. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 167, 28-41.

Huang, L. & Whitson J. A. (2020). Organizational costs of compensating for mind-body dissonance through conspiracies and superstitions. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 156, 1-12.

Greco, L., Whitson, J. A., O’Boyle, E. O., Wang, C. S., & Kim, J. (2019). An eye for an eye? A meta-analysis of negative reciprocity in organizations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 104(9), 1117-1143.

Whitson, J. A., Kim, J., Wang, C. S., Menon, T., & Webster, B. (2018). Regulatory focus and conspiratorial perceptions: The importance of personal control. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 45(1), 3-15.

Whitson, J. A., Anicich, E. M., Wang, C., & Galinsky, A. D. (2017). Navigating stigma and group conflict: Group identification as a cause and consequence of self-labeling. Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, 10(2), 88-106.

Wang, C. S., Whitson, J. A., Anicich, E. M., Kray, L. J., Galinsky, A. D. (2017). Challenge your stigma: How to reframe and revalue negative stereotypes and slurs. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26(1), 75-80.

Landau, M., Kay, A. C., & Whitson, J. A. (2015). Compensatory control and the appeal of a structured world. Psychological Bulletin, 141(3): 694-722.

Whitson, J. A., Wang, C. S., See, Y. H. M., Baker, W. A, & Murnighan, K. (2015). How, when, and why recipients and observers reward good deeds and punish bad deeds. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 128: 84-95.

Whitson, J. A., Wang, C. S., Kim, J., Cao, J., & Scrimpshire, A. (2015). Responses to normative and norm-violating behavior: Culture, job mobility, and social inclusion and exclusion. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 129: 24-35.

Whitson, J. A., Galinsky, A. D., & Kay, A. C. (2015). The emotional roots of conspiratorial perceptions, system justification, and belief in the paranormal. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 56: 89-95.

Whitson, J. A., Weber, K., Hirsch, P., & Bermiss, Y. S. (2013). Chemicals, companies, and countries: The concept of diffusion in management research. Research in Organizational Behavior, 33: 135-150.

Galinsky, A. D., Wang, C. S., Whitson, J. A., Anicich, E. M., Hugenberg, K., & Bodenhausen, G. V. (2013). The reappropriation of stigmatizing labels: The reciprocal relationship between power and self-labeling. Psychological Science, 24(10): 2020-2029.

Whitson, J. A., Liljenquist, K. A., Galinsky, A. D., Magee, J. C., Gruenfeld, D. H., & Cadena, B. (2013). The blind leading: Power reduces awareness of constraints. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49(3): 579-582.

Galinsky, A. D., Whitson, J. A., Huang, L., & Rucker, D. D. (2012). Not so fluid and not so meaningful: Toward an appreciation of content-specific compensation. Psychological Inquiry, 23(4): 339-345.

Wang, C. S., Whitson, J. A., & Menon, T. (2012). Culture, control, and illusory pattern perception. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3(5): 630-638.

Loyd, D. L., Phillips, K. W., Whitson, J. A., & Thomas-Hunt, M. C. (2010). Expertise in your midst: How congruence between status and speech style affects reactions to unique knowledge. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 13(3): 379-395.

Kay, A. C., Whitson, J. A., Gaucher, D., & Galinsky, A. D. (2009). Compensatory control: Achieving order through the mind, our institutions, and the heavens. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18(5): 264-268.

Galinsky, A. D., Magee, J. C., Gruenfeld, D. H., Whitson, J. A., & Liljenquist, K. A. (2008). Power reduces the press of the situation: Implications for creativity, conformity, and dissonance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(6): 1450-1466.

Whitson, J. A. & Galinsky, A. D. (2008). Lacking control increases illusory pattern perception. Science, 322(5898): 115-117.

Media Coverage

UCLA Anderson Review. anderson-review.ucla.edu/ucla-faculty-bio/jennifer-whitson

Dai, S. (June 30, 2017). David Bouhadana Has a Problem, and We Need to Talk About It. Eater New York. https://ny.eater.com/2017/6/30/15841234/david-bouhadana-japanese-accent-sushi-by-bou

Dickey, C. (June 8, 2017). The New Paranoia. New Republic. https://newrepublic.com/article/142977/new-paranoia-trump-election-turns-democrats-conspiracy-theorists

Cummings, W. (February 17, 2017). Analysis: Trump is a master of language. USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/02/17/trump-rhetoric-techniques/97463770/

Cirino, E. (January 25, 2017). Even Scientists Act Superstitious at Sea. Nautilus. http://nautil.us/blog/even-scientists-act-superstitious-at-sea

Stafford, D. (Producer). (November 18, 2016). UCLA Anderson FEMBA Drive Time [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://dylanucla.wordpress.com/2016/11/18/ever-felt-out-of-control-at-work-faculty-spotlight-featuring-assistant-professor-jennifer-whitson/

Zimmerman, J. (September 22, 2015). ‘This Goes All the Way to the Queen’: The Puzzle Book that Drove England to Madness. Haslitt. https://hazlitt.net/feature/goes-all-way-queen-puzzle-book-drove-england-madness

Collins, M. (February 6, 2015). In One Ear and Out the Other: What Powerful People Do Differently. Texas Enterprise. http://www.texasenterprise.utexas.edu/2015/02/06/research-brief/one-ear-and-out-other-what-powerful-people-do-differently

BBC Future: Psychology: The Truth About the Paranormal. October 2014 http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20141030-the-truth-about-the-paranormal

Wall Street Journal: Study Finds “High-Power” People Unaware of Risks. February 2013 http://blogs.wsj.com/corruption-currents/2013/02/21/study-finds-high-power-people-unaware-of-risks/

CBS Morning News. October 28, 2012

Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman. August 2012



Eric and “E” Juline Faculty Excellence in Research Award, UCLA Anderson School of Management

Dean George W. Robbins Assistant Professor Teaching Award, UCLA Anderson School of Management

Inducted as a Society for Experimental Social Psychology Fellow