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I am a M.A. in industrial/organizational psychology. Most of my experience has been in human resources and change management. My passion lies in employee assessment, organizational development and employee opinions. Website: www.IanMondrow.com LinkedIn Profile: http://linkd.in/drBYoC

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Reduction of Adverse Impact in an Employment Setting Using a Short-Term Memory Test

SOURCE: Barrett, G.V., Carobine, R.G, Doverspike, D. (1999). The reduction of adverse impact in an employment setting using a short-term memory test. Journal of Business and Psychology, 14(2), 373-377.

SUMMARY BY: Ian B. Mondrow, M.A.

Previous research has shown that cognitive ability and achievement tests can result in a significant level of adverse impact when used in an employment context. There is approximately one standard deviation of difference between African American and Caucasian participants (Hartigan & Wigdor, 1989; Humphreys, 1988; Jensen, 1980 as cited in Barrett, Carobine, and Doverspike, 1999). Barett, Carobine and Doverspike (1999) suggest that there have been little indications of how adverse impact can be reduced in these tests. When conducting their preliminary research, the authors found no previous studies  examining short-term selection test as a selection tool and the possibility of adverse impact.

The researchers Utilized 1,423 candidates applying for a Police Officer opening in Midwestern city. 415 identified as African American and 1008 as Caucasian. The participants were matched based on gender, education and age which produced 367 pairs of African American and Caucasian candidates. Participants were administed a short-term memory test that was divided into two sections of 21 items. Candidates were shown 21 pictures that were associated with numbers. On the following page, the candidates were provided with the same pictures rearranged (without numbers) and asked to rank them. They were given four minutes to complete this exercise and could not return to the first page.

A reading comprehension test was also administered with 9 reading passages that were followed by 3 questions. Each question had a choice of five options. Participants had 35 minutes to complete this portion.

Results showed that differences existed between African American (M = 20.39, SD = 9.86) and Caucasian (M = 24.37, SD = 10.38) participants, t(1422) = 5.78, p <.01. African Americans (M = 19.99, SD = 4.87) and Caucasians (M = 23.44, SD = 3.72) also differed significantly in reading comprehension, t(1422) = 11.88, p <.01.

The authors attempted to validate their hypothesis by stating that the differences (in regards to race) were smaller when the results were analyzed using matched samples (i.e. removing age, gender, education). In reality, the  means and standard deviations only changed by a few decimal points and the results of the t-test continued showed significant difference. Therefore, short-term memory test  do experience adverse impact similarly to achievement and cognitive assessments.

As much as I hate to admit it, adverse impact will continue to exist in society. Adverse impact will never disappear entirely but HR professionals should attempt to utilize assessments that minimize it. If any selection tool is found to discriminative among any protected class, then an employer must be prepared to show that the test is valid. A valid test ensures that high score on the test will predict success in the position. Criterion validity is the best approach to prove this. Criterion validity can be demonstrated by correlating test scores to performance appraisal scores. This can be tested on current employees or future candidates. It is recommended that HR professionals hire a statistician to analyze the validity.

When it comes down to it, hiring managers must ask,"is this test essential? Is it going to prove that this candidate will be more successful in the positions?" If the answer is no, then the test should not be part of the selection process. In this context, does short term memory predict success on the job? It would depend on the job and qualities required but it does show adverse impact.

Picture from http://www.mybrainx.com/my-short-term-memory.gif

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