Monday, April 15, 2013

Cognitive Ability

Written By Michael Kurtagh
Cognitive Ability:
            Ability is an extremely important individual factor of job performance.  Ability is the capability that people have to perform a certain activity.  While abilities can be honed and developed, they are partially genetic and can act as limiting factors to personal growth.  Ability can be broken down into three main categories; cognitive, physical and emotional.  This post will be focusing on cognitive ability.  Cognitive ability deals with the act of acquiring and using knowledge in order to solve issues. While all three major ability categories are applicable to all jobs, cognitive ability is definitely an asset for any occupation.  One article stated that “There are no jobs for which cognitive ability does not predict training success." (Oakes, Ferris, Martocchio, Buckley & Broach, 2001) Cognitive ability is broken down into five ability subsets which are verbal, quantitative, reasoning, spatial and perceptual. Everyone possesses different amounts of these abilities and understanding which ones are strengths can help a person find a job that takes advantage of those strengths.

Verbal Ability:
            Verbal ability encompasses the various things associated with the understanding and expressing of communication. Although called verbal ability, it includes both written and oral communication.  The distinction between oral and written communication is important because many people possess high ability in one while are weak in the other.  While almost every job requires at least some verbal ability, there are certainly some occupations that require more.  Jobs like being a therapist or psychologist require you to effectively express yourself to your patient while understanding them.  Also most management or executive jobs require you to delegate work to employees working under you requiring you to communicate directions to them. A manager or executive lacking verbal ability may find a great deal of difficulty functioning in their role if they cannot effectively communicate with their workers.     

Quantitative Ability:
            Quantitative ability deals with mathematical ability.  It includes number facility, which is the ability to do basic math functions like adding and subtracting, and mathematical reasoning, which is the ability to choose and apply formulas in the solving of number related issues.  Unlike verbal ability, many occupations don’t require a great deal of quantitative ability.  This is especially true for mathematical reasoning since many jobs don’t require the application of mathematical formulas.  Some jobs though, like those that require statistics or accounting, rely heavily on quantitative ability.  Knowing your level of quantitative ability is extremely important if you’re seeking out jobs that use it.  It’s also very important for people hiring for those positions to know applicants levels of quantitative ability. 

Reasoning Ability:
            Reasoning ability is the ability to sense and solve problems using insight, rules, and logic.  It can be further broken down into problem sensitivity, deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning and originality.  Problem sensitivity is the ability to sense and foresee problems that may occur.  This is an incredibly valuable skill for those jobs where an unexpected problem can be disastrous.  Deductive reasoning is the ability to use general rules to solve problems.  This is a useful ability for any job, although those jobs that require the employee to make a decision based on a set of facts, like a doctor diagnosing a patient, would find deductive reasoning very useful.  Inductive reasoning is when you look for the connection between a set of facts.  Occupations like a police detective rely heavily on inductive reasoning.  Finally, originality is the ability to develop new and clever ways to solve problems.  Jobs that require creativity, like writing or advertising, benefit greatly from originality.      

Spatial Ability:
            Spatial ability involves the visualization and understanding of an object in space.  One type of spatial ability is spatial orientation which is having a good understanding of where one is relative to other things in an environment.  This would be a very useful ability for people who those who operate large vehicles like boats and planes.  The other type of spatial ability is visualization.  Visualization is the ability to imagine how separate things would look if rearranged together.  Visualization can be useful for an occupation like interior designer where they have to visualize how a room would look.

Perceptual Ability: 
            Perceptual ability is the ability to perceive, understand, and recall patterns of information.  Speed and flexibility of closure is one type of perceptual ability which specifically deals with how quickly a person can sort out a pattern of information in the presence of distracting information.  Police officers and other occupations that require the piecing together of information in a timely manner can greatly benefit from this ability.  Another form of perceptual ability is perceptual speed.  This refers to being able to quickly examine and compare numbers, letters and objects.  Jobs that require the sorting of things or proofreading can benefit from perceptual speed.

General Cognitive Ability:
            Research over the years has suggested that some people rate very equally across the five major cognitive ability categories.  The belief behind this is that people possess general cognitive ability which is referred to as the general factor, or g-factor.  A high g-factor means that a person may score relatively high across the board of the five cognitive ability categories.  Basically it’s the belief that “people who have high scores in mathematical ability would score high in a language test as well.” (Solanki) This g-factor is linked to IQ, suggesting that a higher IQ produces a higher g-factor and therefore higher scores in all five categories of cognitive ability.      

            Cognitive ability is an important concept to understand when discussing job performance.  It encompasses many of the skills required for many occupations and knowledge of it is beneficial to both employees and managers.  An employee or prospective employee that understands cognitive ability can first assess their own cognitive strengths and then either find tasks that are supported by those strengths or search for employment that is tailored to those strengths.  It’s also helpful to know which areas of cognitive ability that you struggle with so that you can either work to improve them or find tasks or employment that don’t have an emphasis on those areas.  A manager can benefit a great deal from knowing cognitive ability by finding better employees and then doing a better job of matching those employees to tasks.  They can find better employees by including tasks in the interview process that measure areas of cognitive ability.  Managers can then better match employees with tasks by taking heed of their cognitive strengths.  Lacking the cognitive ability necessary for a task isn’t the only potential issue, as having excess ability for a given task because “they are more likely to feel bored on the job and will thus be harder to retain.” (Philips, 2008) While ability in general is an important topic when trying to understand individual factors that affect job performance, cognitive ability in particular is important.      


Oakes, D. W., Ferris, G. R., Martocchio, J. J., Buckley, M. R., & Broach, D. (n.d.). Cognitive ability and personality predictors of training program skill acquisition and job performance. (2001). Journal of Business and Psychology, 15(4), 523-548. Retrieved from Retrieved from JSTOR.

Philips, J. M. (n.d.). The role of excess cognitive capacity in the relationship between job characteristics and cognitive task engagement. (2008). Journal of Business and Psychology, 23(1/2), 11-24. Retrieved from JSTOR.

Solanki, P. (n.d.). The general intelligence factor. Retrieved from

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