Does Cognitive Ability Predict Success For Athletes?

The Wonderlic Personnel Test (WPT) measures cognitive ability. Specifically, crystallized intelligence, a measure of an individual’s range and scope of knowledge, and fluid intelligence, a measure of the ability to reason and problem solve both inductively and deductively, are assessed by this test.


Though this test is used by the National Football League (NFL) to assess the psychological potential of collegiate athletes, it has been shown in two previous studies to have no statistical relationship to player performance. Were these two previous results flukes, or is the WPT an invalid measure that continues to be used for some unknown reason? Researchers (Adams & Kuzmits, 2007) set to find out and they compared the WPT scores and performance of NFL quarterbacks, wide receivers, and running backs. Draft number, salary, number of games played, and on-field play determined the performance of the 306 players tested. It was found that the WPT had no relationship with performance.


With this most recent study, there are now three studies illustrating that the WPT is an ineffective tool in predicting performance of NFL players. This is not to say that cognitive abilities do not relate to athletic performance. Rather, the cognitive abilities that the WPT measures are not right for this job. Cognitive ability predicts performance, but it has to match.


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