The Intuition Strikes Back

Topic: AssessmentSelectionStaffing
Publication: Industrial and Org. Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice
Article:  Stubborn reliance on human nature in employee selection: statistical decision aids are evolutionarily novel.
Blogger: Benjamin Granger

In a previous blog titled “Intuition vs. Science: The Battle Rages On!”, I wrote on Highhouse’s (2008) article which called attention to the disparity between research-based employee selection techniques and those actually used in organizations. Highhouse suggested that the general neglect of decision aids and overreliance on expert intuition is based on two beliefs: (1) Near-perfect precision in selecting employees is possible and (2) Intuition can be improved with experience. But as was pointed out in the blog, this is certainly not the end of the story.

Assuming that Highhouse is completely correct in his assertions, what can organizational researchers do to better communicate the value of research-based selection decision aids to employers? In a commentary on Highhouse’s article, Kuncel (2008) presented several suggestions for organizational researchers:

(1)  Researchers can provide narratives that complement the data (Give employers real examples that they can relate to. Don’t beat them over the head with correlations.)

(2)  Use a mix of research-based tools and those preferred by the organizations (e.g., Prescreen a sub-set of job applicants using research-based techniques and then allow employers to do what they do and make the final selection decisions.)

(3)  Present research findings in metrics not just correlations (e.g., Use odds ratios, risk ratios, Taylor-Russell estimates, or anything that organizational members can better relate to and understand.)

(4)  Point out differences between organizations’ selection experts’ personal theories of selection (Their theories and ideas may be very different and this may open some eyes!)

Now wait a second! Should we just assume that Highhouse’s arguments are spot-on!? Surely there are naysayers somewhere out there!

In response to Highhouse, Colarelli and Thompson (2008) suggested that peoples’ general preference for
using intuition is not necessarily a “bad” thing. In fact, they argued that human beings’ strategies for predicting behavior (and this includes job-related behaviors) “stem from evolved psychological mechanisms” (p. 347). This contrasts Highhouse’s primary
thesis that the use of intuition is based on poor assumptions. Colarelli and Thompson point out that the use of intuition has been shown to lead to accurate assessment of (1) certain personality traits, (2) likability, and (3) social competence (“Should we REALLY hire that smart but really annoying person who just has NO CLUE, based on his/her cognitive ability test score!? Or should we go with our gut on this one?”).

Finally, Colarelli and Thompson point out that the tendency to neglect decision aids is NOT ubiquitous. Academic institutions, the military as well as national and state governments all widely employ selection decision aids.

So what can we conclude from this discussion? Ultimately, each organization must make its own decision, but the fact remains that research-based decision aids are very useful in many selection contexts and they can, at worst, complement organizations’ preferred strategies. Organizations will certainly be apprehensive to give their selection processes a complete makeover, but overall, research-based selection decision aids can improve the accuracy of selection decisions.

Colarelli, S. M., & Thompson, M. (2008). Stubborn reliance on human nature in employee selection: statistical decision aids are evolutionarily novel. Industrial and Organizational Psychology Perspectives on Science and Practice, 1(3), 347-351.