Why g matters: The complexity of everyday life
Abstract: Personnel selection research provides much evidence that intelligence (g) is an important predictor of performance in training and on the job, especially in higher level work. This article provides evidence that g has pervasive utility in work settings because it is essentially the ability to deal with cognitive complexity, in particular, with complex information processing. The more complex a work task, the greater the advantages that higher g confers in performing it well. Everyday tasks, like job duties, also differ in their level of complexity. The importance of intelligence therefore differs systematically across different arenas of social life as well as economic endeavor. Data from the National Adult Literacy Survey are used to show how higher levels of cognitive ability systematically improve individual's odds of dealing successfully with the ordinary demands of modern life (such as banking, using maps and transportation schedules, reading and understanding forms, interpreting news articles). These and other data are summarized to illustrate how the advantages of higher g, even when they are small, cumulate to affect the overall life chances of individuals at different ranges of the IQ bell curve. The article concludes by suggesting ways to reduce the risks for low-IQ individuals of being left behind by an increasingly complex postindustrial economy.
Summary (1 min read)
Why g Matters: The Complexity of Everyday Life
- This article provides evidence that g has pervasive utility in work settings because it is essentially the ability to deal with cognitive complexity, in particular, with complex information processing.
- Few claims in the social sciences are backed by such massive evidence but remain so hotly contested in public discourse.
- Besides demonstrating that g is important in practical affairs, I seek to demonstrate why intelligence has such surprisingly pervasive importance in the lives of individuals.
- I then use both the employment and literacy data to sketch a portrait of life’s challenges and opportunities at different levels of intelligence.
WHAT DOES “IMPORTANT” MEAN?
- The nature of the job and its context seem to determine whether g has any direct effect on task proficiency, net of job knowlege.
- As is well known in psychometrics (see also Gordon, 1997), the fact that an individual passes or fails any single test item says little about that person’s general intelligence level.
INFLUENCE OF INTELLIGENCE ON OVERALL LIFE OUTCOMES
- The effects of intelligence-like other psychological traits-are probabilistic, not deterministic.
- White adults in this range marry, work, and have children (Hermstein & Murray, 1994), but, as Table 10 shows, they are nonetheless at great risk of living in poverty (30%), bearing children out of wedlock (32%), and becoming chronic welfare dependents (31%).
- At this IQ level, fewer than half the high school graduates and none of the dropouts meet the military’s minimum AFQT enlistment standards.
- Most occupations are within reach cognitively, because these individuals learn complex material fairly easily and independently.
- Such as divorce, illness, and occasional unemployment, they rarely become trapped in poverty or social pathology.
- Complexity enriches social and cultural life, but it also risks leaving some individuals behind.
- Society has become more complex-and g loaded-as the authors have entered the information age and postindustrial economy.
- Accordingly, organizations are “flatter” (have fewer hierarchical levels), and increasing numbers of jobs require high-level cognitive and interpersonal skills (Camevale, 1991; Cascio, 1995; Hunt, 1995; Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, 1991).
- There is evidence that increasing proportions of individuals with below-average IQs are having trouble adapting to their increasingly complex modern life (Granat & Granat, 1978) and that social inequality along IQ lines is increasing (Herrnstein & Murray, 1994).
- As the military experience also illustrates, however, what is good pedagogy for the low-aptitude learner may be inappropriate for the high-aptitude person.
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...Talent and Achievement Intelligence is the best-documented predictor of achievement (Gottfredson, 1997; Hartigan & Wigdor, 1989)....
...Intelligence is the best-documented predictor of achievement (Gottfredson, 1997; Hartigan & Wigdor, 1989)....
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