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Employees with High Mental Ability May Need Different Performance Goals

Researchers have found that general mental ability (GMA) is a key predictor of work performance. GMA is defined as a person’s learning and problem-solving ability. 

The vast majority of research has focused on performance in stable work environments. However, recent research has revealed that GMA does not accurately predict performance in unstable, modern work environments. 

Recent research in the Journal of Applied Psychologyaimed to re-examine this relationship. The researchers hypothesized that the relationship between GMA and performance in shifting, uncertain work environments is impacted by the types of goals a person is trying to accomplish. To test this hypothesis, an experiment was conducted. Business students were brought into a lab and asked to predict stock prices in a stimulated stock market. The participants were required to adapt to a changing stimulation during the experiment.

The researchers measured the GMA of the participants. They were then assigned to three groups. The first group was told to ensure that their performance met a specific, measurable, and demanding goal. The second group was told to identify strategies they could use to predict stock prices. Finally, the third group was told to “do their best.” Individuals who had high GMA performed well at first in all three groups. However, differences arose between the groups when the task changed. Those with higher GMA who were asked to identify strategies or to “do their best” performed better than those with higher GMA who were asked to meet demanding performance goals.

Howe, M. (2019). General Mental Ability and Goal Type as Antecedents of Recurrent Adaptive Task Performance. Journal of Applied Psychology104(6),796-813.