SHRM Foundation Research
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SHRM Foundation Research


Intelligence Testing For Selection Without Adverse Impact: The Potential of Executive Attentional Control

Funded: November 2008     Completed: December 2010   

David G. Allen, Ph.D., SPHR, Fogelman College of Business and Economics, University of Memphis
Frank A. Bosco, Fogelman College of Business and Economics, University of Memphis

Increase Racial Diversity Without Sacrificing Validity

Executive Summary
Intelligence tests have been shown to be a strong predictor of work performance, so many HR professionals use these tests to staff their organizations.  Although intelligence tests are among the most valid tests that can be used to staff most jobs, they have one major drawback--Black and Hispanic individuals tend not to perform as well on these tests as majority applicants do. This often results in adverse impact against these minority groups.  HR professionals have long struggled with this adverse impact-validity tradeoff common with the use of intelligence tests. 

David G. Allen and Frank A. Bosco address the issue of balancing test validity and diversity by exploring the use of a different type of intelligence measure, called Executive Attention.  Unlike most intelligence tests that are based largely on educational history, Executive Attention measures focus on attention-based tasks that assess the ability to multi-task.  Such tests are less influenced by one's educational experiences-- often thought to be the source of racial differences on traditional intelligence tests. 


1.  The measure of Executive Attention resulted in stronger prediction of job performance than traditional measures of intelligence.  Therefore, the Executive Attention measure was actually more valid than traditional intelligence measures.

2.  Executive Attention measures resulted in smaller subgroup differences than the traditional measures of intelligence, thereby reducing the differences in test scores between Blacks/Hispanics individuals and White individuals. 

3.  The Executive Attention measure did not exhibit race bias when supervisor ratings of job performance were used as a criterion. 


1.  Executive Attention measures may help managers and HR professionals striving to achieve and maintain a diverse workforce while also making selection decisions that result in high-performing employees.  Based on this research,  Executive Attention measures are a valid staffing measure and, because they exhibit smaller race-based subgroup differences than traditional cognitive ability measures, they may allow for the selection of more diverse and high potential applicants. 

2.  Executive Attention measures may represent an especially appropriate selection method for the 21st century because jobs increasingly require multitasking skills.  To the extent that jobs require some degree of multitasking, Executive Attention measures may be particularly well suited to assessing the ability to perform in such contexts.

HR managers and employers are struggling to increase diversity while still ensuring that the selection measures they use are valid predictors of job performance.  Executive Attention measures may offer a partial solution to the validity-adverse impact dilemma that managers and HR professionals face with regard to using intelligence testing for staffing purposes.

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