Cognitive Ability Predicts Job Performance and Creativity

Cognitive ability – typically defined as a collection of mental skills such as memory, attention, reaction speed, and the capacity to learn – has been shown to predict academic performance. Does it predict performance in other domains, such as the workplace?


Researchers (Kuncel, Hezlett, & Ones, 2004) set to find out, as they reviewed many studies related to predictors of performance from the current literature, a process known as a meta-analysis, and evaluated a sample of over 20,000 participants. In the studies reviewed, the Miller Analogies Test – which was related to other measures of cognitive capacity such as the Graduate Record Examination and the Raven’s Progressive Matrices – served as the indicator of cognitive ability. Results indicated that cognitive ability not only predicted academic performance in graduate school, but it also predicted job performance, career potential, and creativity.


These results provide further evidence that cognitive ability is a valid predictor of performance across various domains. While leveraging trained experts and staying mindful of relevant adverse impact laws, organizations could consider taking steps to assess their applicants’ cognitive ability. These results could be used along with other pieces of information, such as previous experience, personality, and education background.


Kuncel, N. R., Hezlett, S. A., & Ones, D. S. (2004). Academic performance, career potential, creativity, and job performance: Can one construct predict them all? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86, 148-161.