The relation between IQ and job success

As consultants in the area of online assessment we work a lot with intelligence tests. We know that they are excellent predictors of job performance. However, when talking to clients we are often faced with scepticism. Do they predict anything beyond first year grades in university? Do they predict “real life outcomes” such as job success?
Apparently Nathan Kuncel, psychology professor at the University of Minnesota, was faced with the same questions. In a TED Talk, he takes us through a huge body of research on the predictive power of intelligence tests. And besides you will also learn what this has to do with Captain Janeway from Star Trek.
Thus, the data of over 3,000 studies and over 600,000 individuals show that the tests predicted success at university – degree completion and grades at various exams, but also faculty ratings, citation count, and research productivity. This is maybe not too surprising for even the sceptics. However, they also predicted other outcomes such as job performance, creativity, or career potential. The relationship between test results and success is highest for performance on complex jobs and training success, but also considerable for performance on jobs of medium to low complexity, leadership performance, and creative performance.
What might seem surprising is that IQ test scores also predict creativity and leadership performance. However, when looking a bit more closely, it all makes perfect sense. Creativity is not just about creating ideas, but also about interconnecting them and knowing which of them are best. For the latter, intelligence is needed. Similarly, leadership is not only about interacting with people, but also about setting goals and organising work. Again, for this, a certain level of intelligence is required. Nathan Kuncel and his team also looked at whether there a point beyond which test scores don’t matter and found that, on the contrary, the relationship becomes stronger at the extremes. IQ scores at age 13 were predictive of doctorates, scientific and literary publications, patents, and income. And this was the case even after controlling for social class.
Now, of course intelligence is not the only predictor of success. We know that there are other factors such as motivationself-discipline, or even the mind-set. We also know that being smart does not prevent you from doing very stupid things. But still, intelligence is a powerful predictor of job success, as loads and loads of data and analyses show. Therefore it makes a lot of sense to use intelligence tests in employment testing.
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Dare to disagree

When we supposedly found a solution to a problem, how can we be sure this is the one? You might it surprising, but: actively seek disconfirmation and create conflict around your theories.

This is what entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan suggests to make sure you have a good solution to a problem. In her TED Talk she explains how not being able to prove that you are wrong can give you the confidence that you are right.
This is what she calls a constructive conflict. It requires that we find people who are very different from ourselves. We have to resist our drive to prefer people who are like ourselves and we have to seek out people with different backgrounds, ways of thinking and experience. It requires patience and energy. She applies this insight to companies and points out that we should not be afraid of conflict. We should dare to disagree so that we can be sure we are providing optimal solutions!

Today’s decisions – ten years from now

At every stage of our lives we make decisions that will profoundly influence the people that we become. Then when we become these people we are not always happy with the decisions we made. Why do we make decisions that our future selves regret?


Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert says that we have a fundamental misconception about the power of time. The rate of change slows over the life span. The rate of change slows as we age, but at every age people underestimate the rate of change they will be experiencing in the upcoming ten years. This applies to personality, values, and preferences.


They asked people how their values had changed in the last ten years and how much they would change in the upcoming ten years. People underestimated the rate of change they would experience in the upcoming ten years, no matter how old they were. Change does slow down with age, but not as much as we think.


This is also called the “End of History Illusion” because humans believe that now is the end of their history in the sense that from now on they will be the person they are right now. We reported on this in an earlier post.


It matters because it bedevils our decision making. We overpay for the opportunity to indulge our current preferences in the future. And why is this so? Dan Gilbert reasons that maybe it is because remembering what one used to be like is easy, but imagining what one will be like in the future is very hard. He concludes by saying that the person you are right now is as transient as the person you have ever been. The only constant in life is change.


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Looking smart?

Humans often judge other people’s personality based on superficial characteristics such as the shape of their face or their facial expression. There was even a time when some psychologists believed that personality could be predicted by measuring the human skull (phrenology). But of course this is nonsense. Or is it?


In a recent article in the journal PLoS ONE Karel Kleisner from Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, and his colleagues found that humans perceive individuals with a long face, sharp chin, larger nose, broader distance between the eyes, and slightly upturned edges of the mouth as more intelligent than individuals with the opposite facial characteristics. Not much of a surprise here. That is what humans do. Make quick judgements of human characteristics based on the cues they have available. However, the surprising finding was that the perception was accurate to a certain degree: those who were perceived as more intelligent in fact were. But this was only the case for men. There was no relationship between perceived and measured intelligence in women. Moreover, extremely intelligent men were perceived as less intelligent. There is an outline of the study on the PsyBlog.


Interestingly enough the authors of the study seem to be more concerned about finding an explanation for why there is NO relationship between perceived intelligence in women than they are in finding one for why there IS such a relationship in men. Thus, further backing up of this study might be necessary. However, what might be of practical interest to our readers are some findings the authors report alongside their key findings. Smiling faces are perceived as more intelligent than angry faces and perceived intelligence is also associated to perceived trustworthiness. Thus, smiling will make you appear more intelligent and trustworthy to others!

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Under seminariet beskrevs Parks and Resorts senaste HR-satsning, utvecklingen av ett Situational Judgement Questionnaire - ett eget skräddarsytt servicetest som bygger på verkliga situationer som möter medarbetarna. Testet är det första i sitt slag i Skandinavien.  I arbetet med att utveckla och validera metoden deltog HR-avdelningen, forskare och psykologer från cut-e, ett 10-tal chefer, över 500 säsongsanställda och studenter från Stockholms universitet.

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Dealing with undesirable behavior at work: theft

Two weeks ago we learned that 90 percent of people will cheat if they believe they will not get caught and that integrity is not stable, but rather depends on the circumstances. Thus, when intending to prevent dishonest or otherwise undesirable behaviour, employers can either select employees who are less prone to fall for the temptations of a situation or they can change the tempting circumstances. The latter does not seem to be as difficult as one might think.


An article by Wharton professor Adam Grant gives a few examples of such changes and their effectiveness. When stealing occurs in a company, managers often decide to install surveillance systems such as cameras. This can work, as a study by Lamar Pierce from Washington University in St. Louis shows. This, however, might backfire because it creates an atmosphere of mistrust. What Grant suggests is to take a closer look at why the undesirable behaviour happens. He cites a study by Gary Latham from the University of Toronto in which researchers were asked to find a way to reduce theft in a forest products company. Camera surveillance had been installed, but this had led to an increase in theft rates and employees even started stealing the surveillance cameras. What Latham did was find out why employees were stealing, and it turned out that they did it solely for the kick they got out of it. Therefore what the company did was establish a loan policy: employees could borrow whatever they wanted. This resulted in dropping theft rates and also in the return of previously “borrowed” material.


Latham concluded from his finding that stealing can, on the one hand, be dealt with by increasing the cost of stealing, but it can also be prevented by reducing the benefits of stealing. In the present study, it was the kick employees got out of stealing that suddenly was not there anymore after the loan system had been introduced. This is a good example of how a change of circumstances lead to a change in employees’ behavior.


What was the capital of Latvia again? And the French word for “main course”? And what do you call the guy who carries a golf player’s golf clubs and bag? Can’t remember? Well, this does not mean that you have a bad memory. Human memory is complex and it deals with our world surprisingly well, even if we think it is poor.


On his blog psychologist Jeremy Dean outlines some characteristics of our memory that maybe make us revise our idea of having a poor memory. When we are unable to recall something, it does not mean that it is gone, it just means that you do not have access to it at the moment. This means that even when you think you have lost a memory it will still be there and with the right trigger you will be able to recall it. You just need a certain cue. The context in which you learned what you are trying to recall might help. It will be easier to re-learn information you once learned than information that is completely new to you, even if the memory is hard to recall.


Moreover, forgetting is not such a bad thing. Forgetting is actually an integral part of an efficient memory. If we were able to recall everything we had ever learned it would make the process inefficient. A nice example is when trying to recall where you parked your car. Imagine you would recall all the places in which you ever parked it. On the other hand, when we manage to recall memories we should also be aware of the fact recall changes the memory and that recall is not really recall, but rather reconstruction. In an earlier post we learned that it is even possible to implant false memories. Therefore we should not trust our own memories too much.


Moreover, we are not good at assessing our own memory. We overestimate to what extent we will in the future be able to recall things we know or that come to our mind at the moment. Even if the content is very obvious and we believe we will not forget it, it is likely that we will. Just remember a situation in which you put something, e.g. your key, in a place that made absolute sense and then you could not find it any more later on. Thus, if there is something we definitely want to remember, we better write it down right away. Or we use the effortful way of learning it. The more effortful learning, the more effective it will be. Things that are easy to recall are not learnt well; we only learn when we have to work hard to recall something. Learning also depends on context, thus in order to get the learned content independent of context, we have to learn material in different contexts (e.g. in our study, outside, etc.) or we have to make sure to be in the same context in which we learned the material when we want to recall it.


By the way, the capital of Latvia is Riga, French for “main course” is “plat principal”, and the guy with the golf bag is a caddy.

Who can you trust?

This is a question that comes up frequently. You might ask yourself the question when closing a deal with a new business partner or when recruiting employees. If the business partner or employee really proves to be trustworthy, your confidence in them will pay off. But if not, you will be at a disadvantage. Thus, who can you trust and how can you know whom you can trust?


In an article in the Harvard Business Review social psychologist David DeSteno from Northeastern University in Boston addresses these questions. With respect to the first question – who can you trust – he comes to a somewhat disillusioning conclusion. 90 percent of people will cheat if they believe they will not get caught. Integrity is not stable, but rather depends on the circumstances. For example, increasing status and power are related to decreasing honesty and reliability. However, this does not mean that rich people are generally less trustworthy than poor people. Any momentary feeling of higher status, even if experimentally manipulated and just for a very short period of time such as a few hours, will make people act in a less trustworthy way.


We reported on this before: the situations we are in have a great influence on how we behave. However, in this post we also outlined that psychologist Philip Zimbardo identified a few critical aspects of situations that make “bad” behaviour more likely to appear. His research also shows that there are certain personality characteristics that make people less susceptible to the influence of the respective situations. This is for example what cut-e’s questionnaire squares does. It measures how likely someone is to fall for the cues of certain situations and show risky or unethical behaviour.


However, you will not always have such a questionnaire at hand. This takes us to the second question addressed in the introduction: how can you know whom you can trust? It seems that there are several cues of body language that, taken together and only taken together, can be indicators of a person’s trustworthiness: hand touching, face touching, crossing arms, and leaning away from the partner. Subconsciously most humans make use of these cues.


In a video Professor DeSteno explains an experiment they conducted on this topic. They found that individuals trust others more when acting face-to-face as opposed to chatting via computer, and that they subconsciously use exactly the four mentioned gestures to assess the other person’s honesty. Thus you may as well trust your gut feeling when assessing another person’s reliability. Additionally, David DeSteno suggests to be generous to the other person because this will make the other feel grateful, which in turn lowers the risk of them cheating on you. Generate a feeling of similarity, which yields the same effect. And, finally, do not threat the other person to punish dishonest behaviour because this will reduce their intrinsic motivation to be honest.

Synthetic happiness

Have you ever had this feeling that some event in the future will make your life so much better than it is now? For example, finally getting the promotion you have been working for, finding the partner that you have always been longing for, or losing the 10 kg of weight that you have been trying to get rid of for years? And then, finally, you will be the happiest person on the planet? Science says that you might be for a while, but you won’t be for long.


In a TED Talk, psychology professor Dan Gilbert from Harvard University explains that no matter whether we win a lottery or become paraplegic from one day to the other, we will after a certain amount of time return to our initial level of happiness. However, we have the “impact bias”, meaning that we overestimate the hedonic impact of future events. In truth these events have less impact than we think.
Dan Gilbert says there are two kinds of happiness: Natural happiness is when we get what we wanted. Synthetic happiness is what we make when we don’t get it. In a series of experiments he found that humans are actually pretty good at creating it for themselves. On the other hand a lot of misery stems from overrating the difference between the situation one is currently in and the alternative situation – from wanting too much what we do not have at the moment. Thus, he argues that happiness does not so much originate in what happens to us. Rather, we have the power to synthesise our happiness!

What is intelligence?

Intelligence is one of the most widely studied subjects in psychological science. It has been shown to be a good predictor of not only academic and job performance, but also of other life outcomes like socio-economic status, health, or well-being. But what IS intelligence, actually?

An interesting reply to this question comes from research on artificial intelligence (AI) research. Computer scientist Alex Wissner-Gross says: intelligence is a function to maximise future freedom of action and keep options open. In a TED Talk, his explains this notion and how it is applied in computer science.

It is a different perspective and it can be applied to systems that do not only learn, but define their own goals. This field of research is certainly one that is worth following and maybe it will help us understand human intelligence better. We will certainly follow up on this.