In Brief

Job success requires the same levels of g--general cognitive ability--as school success, according to a new meta-analysis in APA's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 86, No. 1). 

To investigate the popular belief that g, as measured by IQ testing, predicts achievement in academics more so than in the workplace, Nathan R. Kuncel, PhD, and Sarah A. Hezlett, PhD, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Deniz S. Ones, PhD, of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, conducted a meta-analysis of 127 studies involving 20,352 participants in both graduate school and the work force. The researchers targeted results from studies that used the Miller Analogies Test (MAT)--a 100-item exam that covers subjects from history to math to science.

Kuncel says they chose the MAT, developed nearly 80 years ago for graduate school admissions, because it's one of a few tests used in both graduate school admissions and company hiring decisions.

His team found moderate to strong correlations between high g and high ratings in both school- and job-related domains. More specifically, high-g scorers showed the highest graduate school grade point averages, ratings by faculty, examination scores and Graduate Record Examination verbal scores, as well as the highest membership in professional organizations and employer ratings of job performance, potential and creativity.

Such findings are at odds with the views of g opponents, who dispute that one value can predict outcomes across all contexts and have proposed theories of separate or skill-based intelligences. Further, notes Kuncel, many people believe g does not predict job success because factors other than cognition--such as motivation and social skills--affect job performance.

Kuncel acknowledges that "there are other aspects of an individual that make a difference," but he says the findings suggest g can predict success in various settings, even if the test measuring it is designed for a specific context.

"There are learning and information-processing elements in both [academic and job] contexts, and that is predicted by g," Kuncel explains. "Life itself is a complex, ill-defined thing, and this capacity [for general cognitive ability] is important across many contexts."

Kuncel adds that he hopes the study's results help raise employer awareness of g. "Many organizations rely on methods of selecting employees that are not valid, such as ill-structured interviews that lead to opportunity for bias," Kuncel says. "It'd be nice if people became cognizant of this and made adjustments in hiring."