Psychology of Maintenance

One paradox of maintenance lies in its perception and status: witness the fact that maintenance is both prevalent and highly valued (we bathe daily, and take measures to ensure airplanes and chemical plants operate without accidents); yet maintenance work is routinely neglected, undervalued, and undercompensated. In this project we seek to build better understanding of the status of maintenance work by using methods from psychology, to gain a better understanding of why people neglect maintenance; if maintenance work has comparatively lower status, and why; what connections exist between the status of maintenance work and perceptions of gender, race, and ethnicity; and how individual attitudes inform broader societal patterns evident in organizational priorities and state and national budgets.


Through this research, we plan to 1) identify key differences between attitudes regarding maintainers/maintenance work versus innovators/innovative work; 2) analyze individual attitudes around short-term thinking (instant gratification) versus long-term thinking; 3) exploring the impact of gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, and other demographic factors in the perceptions of maintenance work; 4) assess how these perceptions impact broader societal patterns and practices.

How it relates

In this research project, we will analyze how individuals think and make decisions with respect to maintenance. We start from several hypotheses, based on anecdotes from related research, which suggests that neglect of maintenance can arise from “cognitive bias” or certain psychological dispositions, such “delay discounting,” which is the tendency to seek immediate gratification over long-term rewards.  On the whole, we see this work as a very promising empirical foundation for further investigation, as well as for policy and educational interventions about the value of maintenance work and the biases against maintenance and maintainers.