Is Cognitive Ability a Liability?: A Critique and Future Research Agenda on Skilled Performance
Beier, Margaret E.
Oswald, Frederick L.
Over a century of psychological research provides strong and consistent support for the idea that cognitive ability correlates positively with success in tasks that people face in employment, education, and everyday life. Recent experimental research, however, has converged on a different and provocative conclusion, namely that lower-ability people can actually be more effective performers within special environments characterized by features such as time pressure, social evaluation and unpredictable task change. If this conclusion is true, it has extensive implications for practices such as personnel selection, training design, and teaching at all levels. The current paper re-examines and reinterprets this research within the context of well-established resource theories of cognitive processing and skill acquisition leading to a less provocative conclusion that serves to reiterate the benefits of cognitive ability for task performance. Following this re-examination, we conclude by providing a research agenda for examining the determinants of skilled performance in dynamic task environments, including: (a) broadening the range of abilities and task difficulties examined, (b) considering the role of non-ability traits and goals in skilled performance (e.g., personality, learning and performance goals), (c) investigating the processes (e.g., problem solving strategies) that people use in complex environments, (d) developing research designs and analytic strategies for examining adaptive performance, and (e) investigating how best to train for adaptive performance.