Intelligence Testing in Selection: New Developments

Topic(s): fairness, human resources, selection
Publication: Human Resource Management Review
Article: Implications of modern intelligence research for assessing intelligence in the workplace
Authors: P. Agnello, R. Ryan, and K. Yusko
Reviewed by: Lia Engelsted

Intelligence testing in selection is often critical because intelligence allows employees to innovate and problem solve, and is the single best predictor of job performance. This article (Agnello, Ryan, & Yusko, 2015) reviews the most up-to-date perspectives for conceptualizing and measuring intelligence.


According to the most traditional theory of intelligence, there is a single “general” factor behind intelligence that underlies “all branches of intellectual activity.” More recent approaches to measuring intelligence include the dynamic model of intelligence, which suggests that different cognitive processes grow and become dependent on one another as people develop. Likewise, research suggests that general intelligence may be synonymous with working memory. If that is the case, we can train people to become more intelligent just like we can train them to improve their memory.

Another psychometric theory of intelligence is the Cattell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) theory, which depicts key dimensions of intelligence at three different levels, based on how broad or specific the dimension is. Overall, the outcomes of these new developments provide a greater theoretical understanding of intelligence and a new focus on developing theoretically sound intelligence tests.


One of the best examples of intelligence developments based on cognitive processes is the Planning, Attention-Arousal, Simultaneous and Successive (PASS) theory of intelligence. The PASS theory conceptualizes mental ability as though it is built from different functions in the brain. The PASS theory focuses on four information processing factors: 

  1. Planning includes problem-solving, goal striving, strategy formation, utilization of knowledge, and control of the other three processes.
  2. Attention includes focus, selective attention, and continuation of attention to specific things.
  3. Simultaneous processing includes organizing things into coherent patterns and perceiving relationships between things.
  4. Successive processing includes integrating information into a sequential order as well as the use of ordered information.

One test that is administered in an educational setting based on the four factors of PASS is the Cognitive Assessment System (CAS). The CAS includes twelve subtests which focus on cognitive processes, such as decision making, task performance, and spatial memory. The CAS is different from other intelligence tests because it uses novel tasks that focus on cognitive functioning. While still in its early stages, the CAS is promising, because it is capable of predicting performance in school, and differences between races are smaller than in other methods of testing for intelligence. It is not currently used for selection, but it could be adapted for this use in the future.


The neuropsychological approach studies how the brain relates to behavior. Neuropsychological assessments examine which parts of the frontal lobes are activated when participants complete certain behaviors, which include a variety of verbal and non-verbal tasks associated with memory and attention.

These tests are generally shown to be valid through high-tech biological or neuroimaging techniques. Preliminary research on these tasks for work outcomes is promising. However, one limitation of the neuropsychological approach is that the brain regions activated during assessments may differ from person to person.


In addition to the theoretical advances of intelligence, the authors discuss developments associated with using intelligence tests. There are two particular practices that are most relevant to HR professionals. First, it is important to make sure that tests are culturally fair to people of all backgrounds. Previous knowledge of some content may vary by background (e.g., race, gender, culture). Research demonstrates that performance can suffer when an individual is not familiar with the cultural content of the test. Users of intelligence tests should be cognizant of the degree to which intelligence tests contain culturally-specific content that is not relevant to measuring intelligence.

Practitioners should make sure not to use tests which have compromised fairness standards. Second, there is an advantage of using “non-entrenched-tasks.” These tasks remove any acquired knowledge from a task so that all examinees are left on equal footing. In the HR context, these tasks may be especially useful for culturally diverse groups since they decrease the culture-dependent content.


The authors warn that HR professionals should proceed with caution before selecting intelligence tests to make employment decisions. However, there are numerous benefits to applying modern intelligence theories to HR practices, including the ability to predict successful job performance. Additionally, modern intelligence tests may be able to predict performance while also promoting racial diversity in the workforce, as modern intelligence tests reveal smaller score differences between different cultural or ethnic groups.


Agnello, P., Ryan, R., & Yusko, K (2014). Implications of modern intelligence research for assessing intelligence in the workplace. Human Resource Management Review, 25(1), 47-55.