Intergenerational Conflict at Work: The Role of Visual Attention in Affective and Behavioral Reactions to Conflict Situations

Project: Research

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As the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are being joined by growing numbers of workers from Generation Me cohort (born between 1982 and 1999), today’s employees are increasingly likely to work and interact with coworkers from other age groups. However, because younger and older workers tend to have different work values and attitudes (Twegen et al., 2010), intergenerational conflicts are becoming more common in the workplace. Research also suggests that reactions to workplace conflict can vary according to the age of the employee and the age group of the opposing party(Birditt et al., 2005; Fingerman et al., 2008; Yeung et al., under review). In this project, we will extend our previous research by investigating the underlying mechanism of age-related differences in emotional and behavioral reactions to intergenerational conflict in the workplace.A large body of research on lifespan development suggests that older adults show a greater looking preference toward positive information and away from negative information than their younger counterparts (Isaacowitz, 2012). Drawing on the modal model of emotion (Gross, 2007), which posits that an individual’s attention precedes his/her appraisal of an event, we speculate that differences in older and younger workers’ visual attention affects their emotional and behavioral reactions to intergenerational conflict. In this project, we propose to conduct two eye-tracking experiments to objectively assess the looking patterns of younger and older workers when experiencing hypothetical workplace conflict. Study 1 will record the natural looking patterns of younger and older workers in response to video vignettes of hypothetical intergenerational and non-intergenerational workplace conflicts. This study aims to demonstrate whether there are any age differences in visual attention when experiencing conflicts with coworkers from different age groups. It will also examine the relationships among looking patterns, emotional and behavioural reactions, and work-related outcomes. Study 2 will make use of experimental manipulation to shape the looking patterns of younger and older workers when encountering workplace conflicts. The aim will be to test whether looking patterns account for the age-related differences in the emotional and behavioural reactions to intergenerational conflict.The findings of the proposed project will have both theoretical and practical implications. Specifically, it will advance the literature by unveiling the attentional underpinning of conflict management. It will also provide insights to human resources personnel for designing an age-sensitive training and development programs to meet the needs and preferences of older and younger workers when handling workplace relations.


Project number9042446
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/12/1617/08/20

    Research areas

  • Intergenerational Conflict , Visual Attention , Emotional Reactions , Conflict Strategies , Eye-tracking experiment