Is there a genius in all of us?

February 13, 2011

It could be that genius is more nurture than nature after all…

“Our abilities are not set in genetic stone. They are soft and sculptable, far into adulthood. With humility, with hope, and with extraordinary determination, greatness is something to which any kid – of any age – can aspire.”

Read this thought provoking article for the BBC by David Shenk:

Free stuff @

February 12, 2011

Graduates! Just another reminder that there’s a multitude of free psychometric tests and questionnaires on the ‘links’ page of my website at:

Also a growing number of other sites that offer free taster tests, for example you will find verbal, numerical and inductive reasoning tests at:

Do psychometric tests work?

February 3, 2011

Good question. What people usually mean when they ask if they work is: do tests predict anything useful about future work performance? The short answer is a resounding ‘yes’. As long as a test is used to measure an ability that is actually required of a particular job, then predictive validities are often in the 0.5-0.6 range. What this means is that at the top end of the scale, a test (the predictor) explains 36% ((0.6 x 0.6) x100) of the variance in the criterion – the criterion being something like a measure of productivity. By way of contrast other assessment methods such as the interview are often far less effective. A semi-structured interview would weigh in at 0.38 (14%) or thereabouts. And to get the whole thing in perspective, just in case you’re not impressed, in other fields such as the drug industry, predictive-type validities are often lower. For example, the association between Ibuprofen (the well-known anti-inflammatory) and pain reduction is in the region of 0.14 (2%) – see Robert Hogan’s article, details below.

Want to know more, here are some key references:

  • Bertua, C., Anderson, N., and Salgado, J.F. (2005). The Predictive Validity of Cognitive Ability Tests: A UK Meta-Analysis. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 78(3), 387-410.
  • Hogan, R. (2005). In Defense of Personality Measurement: New Wine in Old Whiners. Human Performance, 18, 331-341.
  • Hunter, J.E, & Hunter, R.F. (1984). Validity and Utility of Alternative Predictors of Job Performance. Psychological Bulletin, 96, 72-98.
  • Schmidt, F.L, & Hunter, J.E. (1998). The Validity and Utility of Selection Methods in Personnel Psychology: Practical Implications of 85 Years of Research Findings. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 262-274.

Brain myths #1: You only use 10% of your brain

January 25, 2011

The brain is an amazing thing and can do amazing stuff. However, and I hate to disappoint you, we do know what all the bits do. There isn’t some hidden part, which if only you could activate it, would give you super powers: super memory, super intelligence, or indeed super anything. This is of course in direct contradiction to the common belief that we only use a fraction of our brains, maybe only 10%. So where did the myth come from? One of the main suspects is the great American psychologist William James who believed that we all had ‘reserve energy’ – a bit of extra brain oomph that we could tap into if only we knew how. The other, and perhaps more credible explanation, is that early on researchers discovered that just 10% of neurons were firing at any given time. Thus it seemed that only 10% were in use, which of course isn’t the case. Even when you’re asleep or day dreaming the brain is busily and actively doing its thing. Whatever the explanation, and of course it is possible to increase the efficiency of the brain, New Age hopes of tapping a great reserve of potential, and coming over all super human, appear to be unfounded.

Really really hard IQ tests

November 28, 2010

E=MC2 or does it? If you want to try some fantastically hard IQ tests, including the infamous Mega, Titan and Ultra, go here:

Uncommonly difficult IQ Tests

The recommended time for some of these tests is one month. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Brains and a ‘winning’ personality? Now that would be dangerous!

November 23, 2010

If you were only allowed to look for one thing in a prospective manager, what would it be? Business psychology tells us that it should be ‘brains’, or rather general intelligence, or if you want to be precise, the ‘fluid’ bit of general intelligence. That’s the sort of intelligence that helps you to solve problems you haven’t come across before. Why? Of all the things we could assess, general intelligence – or having sufficient brain power – is the most predictive of work performance. Now if you could pick a second thing (this is getting a bit like the three wishes granted by a genie, I admit), what would that be? Again if we go with what’s most predictive we would have select ‘conscientiousness’ – the personality attribute that’s associated with self-organisation, discipline, thoroughness and a need to achieve. It also happens to be the best predictor across all types of work. And if a third choice was available? Then it would have to be emotional stability: being positive, calm and relaxed and able to take what comes your way.

Do I need to pick anything else? Obviously knowledge and previous experience come into the frame, and it might also be useful to have a sociable (extrovert) manager, and maybe one who was open to new ideas, who was concerned for others, and honest, with a touch of insight… Stop. Actually we’ve already got the top three and we’ve known what they are for at least the last 20 years.

However it’s not quite that simple. Here’s the thing: whilst general intelligence and conscientiousness are both predictive of success at work, they do not correlate with each other; indeed some people have found a negative relationship between the two. What’s going on?  As you can probably imagine this has been the subject of much debate. One of the ideas is that a negative relationship is due to fluid intelligence affecting the development of conscientiousness. This has the snappy title of ‘intelligence compensation theory’ and it goes like this: fluid intelligence, being innate, is the most likely to influence a growing personality; and to cut to the chase, what then happens is that those with less intelligence compensate by developing higher levels of conscientiousness – and vice versa for those with higher intelligence. Well, it ties in with the statistics, but as you can imagine it’s rather controversial. Mind you it does help to explain the bright individual who flies by the seat of their pants (low conscientiousness) and who nevertheless tends to get away with it.

But getting back to our prospective manager, perhaps there’s a less esoteric explanation. Conscientiousness is a mix of different attributes, which usually include dutifulness and deliberation on the one hand, and achievement orientation and competence on the other. Thus it’s likely that the dutiful plodder aspects of this personality factor are negatively associated with intelligence; and the achieving, competent, striving bits are positively associated. So could it just be that we’ve been looking at personality at the wrong level?

So here’s the punch line –  looking for general intelligence, consciousness and emotional stability is still good advice, but don’t be surprised if those with brains can look like riskier bets because they sometimes get lower overall conscientiousness scores. You’re going to have to dig deeper to find out who you’re really dealing with!

Note: If you’re worried about the other bit of general intelligence, the learnt or ‘crystallised’ aspect, there’s an ongoing argument about whether that is or isn’t related to conscientiousness, and in what combination (or not) with fluid intelligence. Let alone those that think intelligence is part of personality. I expect you get the idea.

Barrick, M.R. & Mount, M.K. (1991). The big five personality dimensions and job performance: A meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology, 44, 1-26.

Moutafi, J., Furnham, A. & Paltiel, L. (2004). Why is conscientiousness negatively correlated with intelligence? Personality and Individual Differences, 37(5), 1013-1022.

Schmidt, F.L. & Hunter, J.E. (1998). The validity and utility of selection methods in personnel psychology: Practical and theoretical implications of 85 years of research findings.  Psychological Bulletin, 124, 262-274.

Photo credit: Francesco Marino/

Practical intelligence key to entrepreneurial success

November 1, 2010

RFIt’s fact that being a business success is not always down to brains. There are plenty of supremely well-educated people who fail, and likewise plenty with few formal qualifications who succeed. Research at the University of Maryland now suggests that one of the key differentiators is practical intelligence, or ‘know-how’, or common sense… It seems that a touch of nous can make quite a difference. The Maryland study, based on a new model of practical intelligence, predicting increased sales and employment 27% of the time. Take it from me, this is pretty good for this sort of thing. It might also throw some light on why the Oxbridge candidates on BBC TV’s, The Apprentice, often fair far worse than those from less privileged backgrounds. It seems it’s all a question of knowing your onions, or if memory serves me correctly, in Alan Sugar’s case, his beetroot!

The study by Robert Baum, Barbara Bird and Sheetah Singh is due to published in the next issue of Personnel Psychology.


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