Predicting Job Performance with Implicit Words Games?

Topic: PersonalityMeasurement, Job Performance
Publication: Personnel Psychology (SPRING 2010)
ArticleWe (sometimes) know not how we feel: Predicting job performance with an implicit measure of trait affectivity
Authors: R.E. Johnson, A.L. Tolentino, O.B., Rodopman, and E. Cho
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

In the world of emotions, trait affect refers to the predisposition some people have to generally experience positive or negative emotions.

Trait affect is often broken up into Negative Affect (NA) and Positive Affect (PA). While high levels of NA are associated with negative emotions such as fear and anxiety, high levels of PA are associated with positive emotions such as excitement and joy.  It should not come as a surprise that PA tends to relate favorably to work performance whereas the opposite is true for NA.

Recently, Johnson, Tolentino, Rodopman, and Cho (2010) suggested that because trait affect (e.g., PA & NA) operates outside of employees’ conscious awareness, it is more appropriate to measure it at the unconscious or implicit level.  This is in stark contrast to the self-report, explicit measurement of trait affect that is typically used when explicitly asking people to rate the extent to which they feel certain emotions across many different situations.

But how in the heck would you measure trait affect implicitly?  Johnson et al. used a word completion task that presented word fragments to employees for which they were required to complete to create a meaningful English word.  The following are actual examples of word fragments used by Johnson and colleagues:

F E _ _ (NA = FEAR, or neutral = FEEL, FEED) S M _ _ _ (PA = SMILE, or neutral = SMART, SMOKE)

A person’s level of trait NA and PA were determined by the relative amount of NA-related and PA-related word fragments completed by employees, respectively.  But, don’t worry if you are a bit skeptical; this is not exactly your everyday personnel survey!

Nevertheless, Johnson and colleagues conducted two independent pilot studies that supported the validity of their word fragment approach. Ultimately, Johnson and colleagues demonstrated that implicit measures of trait affect are important predictors of task performance, organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs) and counterproductive work behaviors (CWBs), even more so than the conscious/explicit measures that we are more accustomed to. Johnson et al.’s study highlights an interesting way to measure employees’ predispositions to experience positive and negative emotions.

Moreover, while employees can easily misrepresent themselves on explicit personality measures, this is likely not possible for implicit measures.

Johnson, R.E., Tolentino, A.L., Rodopman, O.B., & Cho, E. (2010). We (sometimes) know not how we feel: Predicting job performance with an implicit measure of trait affectivity. Personnel Psychology, 63 (1), 197-219.