Cold but competent: The paradoxical effects of solitude expression on social reputation at work

Hodar LAM, Maral DAROUEI, Dongning REN, Julian Jonathan MARKUS

Research output: Other Conference ContributionsPresentation


When someone says “I enjoy working alone”, what would you think about this person? A recent study showed that university students judge a peer who expresses a preference for solitude – the experience of being alone without in-person or virtual interactions (Long et al., 2003), would be rated as more competent or agentic, but less warm or communal (Ren & Evans, 2021).

With increasing remote work arrangements, it is important to test if the above finding applies in employee contexts for three reasons. First, remote work may trigger a sense of disconnection and ironically lead to a stronger preference for solitude (Ren et al., 2021). Second, the effect of solitude expression on social reputation may be more salient in virtual interactions (Pillemer & Rothbard, 2018), due to limited social cues in online settings. Third, employee reputation is consequential. The social evaluation of employee agency and communality has implications for how employees are perceived, for instance in terms of their leadership capability and productivity (Koenig et al., 2011).

Drawing on signalling theory (Connelly et al. , 2011), we argue that the expression of a preference for solitude (high vs. low), would result in social evaluations of low communality, but high agency (Fiske et al., 2007). In remote work contexts, employees would use the expression of enjoying working alone as signals to infer behaviour and competence that are difficult to observe. We also explore if gender moderates the main effects, as previous results on social evaluations across gender are often inconsistent (Bowker et al., 2020; Coplan et al., 2019). Moreover, we test if solitude expression affects perceived productivity and leadership potential, as mediated by social evaluations.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 25 May 2023
Externally publishedYes
EventEuropean Association of Work & Organisational Psychology Congress 2023 - Katowice, Poland
Duration: 24 May 202327 May 2023


CongressEuropean Association of Work & Organisational Psychology Congress 2023
Abbreviated title21st EAWOP Congress
Internet address

Bibliographical note

This research primarily addresses UN SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth and SDG3: Good health and well-being.


  • Solitude
  • social evaluation
  • remote work


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