My New Blog: The Psychology of Video Games

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been working on a new blogging project for 2010. I thought that instead of doing more weekly reviews on books or movies, I’d tackle something bigger and honestly more interesting. Well interesting to me; not sure about you yet. I figure, I like psychology. And I like video games. Why not write about the psychology of video games?

So, perform clicking motions at this time to visit The Psychology of Video Games.

As I say on the “About” page, the articles on the site will use what I know of puny human psychology to answer three types of questions:

  1. Why do gamers do what they do?
  2. Why do those designing games do what they do?
  3. Why do those marketing and selling games do what they do?

I’ve already stocked the shelves with seven stories dealing with specific questions like:

So, please go check it out. If you find it remotely interesting, please consider subscribing to the RSS feed, leaving a comment, or sharing it on your favorite social media site like Twitter, Facebook, Digg, etc. And click on a few of the Google Adsense ads while you’re at it. I need to renew my Xbox Live Gold membership soon.

The Art and Science of Competency Models

Competency Models

One of my co-workers and I often joked about creating a television sitcom about a group of twenty-something Industrial-Organizational Psychologists who lived in the big city where they learned about love, friendship, and how to leverage the tools and methodologies of psychology to solve organizational problems. This book by Anntoinette Lucia and Richard Lepsinger would figure into one of the episode’s B stories in some way, perhaps because the “Chandler” of the show needs to figure out how to identify the critical knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to adequately perform a target job. Look for it soon on NBC’s Thursday night lineup.

But enough about that. This book is pretty much what the title suggests: it discusses a hands-on approach to developing competency models –that is, a collection of basic requirements for doing a given job in a work setting. What I like about it is that it’s got a very “nuts and bolts” approach that pays some respect to the academic side of the subject but is really pretty squarely aimed at practitioners. It goes into some basic definitions and reviews of relevant legal material, but then jumps right in to how to create a competency model and then how to use that model to build various Human Resources functions like selection systems, training/development, performance appraisal, and succession planning. There are little vignettes along the way that describe how real companies are doing all this stuff.

So it’s good that the book doesn’t get bogged down in minutia, but at the same time I would have appreciated a little more in terms of tools, worksheets, surveys, handouts, and examples. The authors talk about what you should be doing and even how to do it, but I would have liked to see more concrete examples. It’s almost as if they seem afraid to take anything but a generalist approach, since any examples would be specific to a given organization and job. But I don’t mind that, since I’m smart enough to figure out how to take what’s presented and adapt it to my own circumstances; at least give me a chance to do that. Still, as a primer, it’s not bad if you need an overview or starting point for more research on the topic.

Book Review: Developing Multiple-Choice Tests

Developing and Validating Multiple-Choice Test Items

Hey kids! Do you like writing multiple choice test items that exhibit desirable psychometric properties? You DO? Then Developing and Validating Multiple-Choice Test Items by Thomas Haladyna is for you!

Glibness aside, I actually did find this to be a pretty useful book and it’ll be kept within easy reach as a reference book in my office. I picked it up because I was developing a high stakes, multiple-choice test for a work project and wanted to make sure I was doing things right and covering all the bases. I generated double fist fulls of these kinds of tests when I taught undergraduate classes at the University of Missouri, but apparently I and everyone else going all the way back to my grade school was doing it ALL WRONG. Or at best not as well as we could have been.

What I like about Developing and Validating Multiple-Choice Test Items is that it picks a focus and sticks with it. After some obligatory introductory philosophizing, the book walks you through the various multiple choice item formats (of which there are way more than I realized), then moved on to how to actually generate the items and how to check over them to make sure they’re valid for whatever use you have in mind. The work is replete with practical “how to” kinds of advice in the forms of rules, check lists, and examples of good/bad items. Only occasionally does the author veer off into naval gazing and discussions that seemed a little pedantic to me, such as providing 3 answer choices to each question instead of 4. But most of those asides were self-contained and easy to skim, so it worked out fine.

This isn’t to say that writing these kinds of items is easy. In fact once I sat down and actually started trying to churn them out I found that it’s actually very HARD to do if you do it right. Creating believable but still objectively wrong answers to put in there with the right answer is actually the hardest part. But in the end, I was able to take what was in this work and with just a little additional research put together a training program for test item writers that I felt would give them (and me) the groundwork necessary to create a good test out of nothing.

Book Review: Investing in People

Investing in People

In their book, Investing in People: Financial Impact of Human Resource Initiatives authors Wayne Cascio and John Boudreau hit on something I’ve written about elsewhere: making research understandable and meaningful to a wider audience, especially in the context of business. In other words, putting dollar signs in there.

After some introductions and defining of terms, the authors propose what the call a “LAMP” framework for approaching the measurement of Human Resources initiatives. LAMP is an acronym for a paradigm relating to planning and couching research projects in terms those folks in Operations or Accounting will actually care about. You must have a coherent Logic for the initiative and how it connects to the larger business, the right Analytics to make sense of the data, the right Measures to gather the data in the first place, and the right Processes to make use of what you discover.

This framework established, the next chunk of the book dealt with very specific questions that I-O psychologists working in the area of Human Resources are likely to be called upon to answer. How much does employee absenteeism really hurt the company? How worried should we be about our turnover? Is it going to benefit the company to put in a new fitness center for employee use or to pay for a smoking cessation program? Is it worth it to offer on-site day care for employees to use in emergencies? How concerned should I be about these employee satisfaction survey results? Just how bad ARE the hyena attacks on the third floor?

The authors provide logic, measures, analytics, and processes for each issue to educate the reader on how to approach each question as both a scientist and a business person. Good research methods, theory building, and scientific interpretation of results are stressed, but so is communicating the outcomes in terms of dollars (or whatever your local currency may be). If you need a formula for calculating the hourly cost of turnover or absenteeism, for example, you’ll find it here.

The next major part of the book dives head first into the complicated (and often controversial) concept of staffing utility. The authors provide information on measuring and using staffing utility, then its use in decision making processes for things like enhanced selection systems and HR development programs. This section of the book is not for the faint of heart as it contains some pretty complicated algebra and calls to do some pretty challenging measurement. Here, let’s look at Equation 11-10 here:

I mean, sweet jeebus, what is THAT? Well, they tell you, or at least try to. And utility (pun intended) of this kind of effort can’t be understated when you are trying to sell a program to key decision makers or to communicate the impact of a new program.

So in general I liked Investing in People, even if it bogs down from time to time and once or twice the reader is presented with instructions that basically amount to “just make a best guess and plug the number in to your model.” But the message of how to communicate and debate with stakeholders in their own language and on their home turf is an invaluable one if Human Resources in general and I-O psychology in specific is going to move forward and become a real driving force in business.

Using Excel to Do Test Item Analyses

Over on my other, sometimes updated blog I made a nifty update about using Microsoft Excel to do test item analysis. At least I think it’s nifty. It’s got a spreadsheet! You can read it here.

Now that I’m actually doing this kind of thing at work again, I hope to have more stuff like this to talk about. Hopefully will be updated more than once a month.

Selection Matters

I don’t want to go so far as to say that my other blog, which focuses on the wonderful world of employment selection, is “back” per se, since every time I make that claim I end up coughing out a handful of posts before letting the site lay fallow for another six months. But I have posted a few things there lately:

Happy clicking, if you are so inclined. You can even subscribe to the site via the RSS feed.

My New Column is up in TIP


Looks like the July 2007 edition of The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist (a.k.a., TIP, SIOP’s quarterly magazine) is online, including my column that I co-author with Marcus Dickson. The column is “Good Science Good Practice” and in each issue we try to highlight research that bridges the gap between scientists and practitioners. Preferably without resorting to cage matches. This time we talk about things we saw at the 2007 SIOP conference in New York. Here’s a smidge:

Later in the conference a panel of other experts on employment testing gathered and discussed how certain scientific and methodological advances in test validation were faring in the field. Specifically, the symposium, entitled “Validity Generalization in the Workplace,” discussed alternatives to traditional test validation strategies that are widely accepted as useful and acceptable by researchers and other experts in the testing industry, but which are sometimes regarded as inscrutable or untested (pardon the pun) by others. Examples included job component validity, validity transportability, and meta analysis. The panelists, all of whom use these validation tactics in their everyday work, explained that they are most often useful and necessary when traditional approaches like criterion-related validation are impossible due to time constraints or the lack of enough incumbents to achieve adequate statistical power for the required procedures.

The incumbents were also forthcoming with many of the sometimes irritating realities of this kind of research, including the fact that one must be able to replicate job analysis procedures for transportability studies and that there was still a certain amount of legal risk involved in these processes given that the courts have yet to build up a strong history of neither support nor opposition for these approaches despite their widespread acceptance among academics and other science-minded practitioners. The presenters also sheepishly provided a somewhat unsatisfying answer to the question of “how close is close enough” when it comes to comparing the components or requirements of two jobs for purposes of transporting validity: “That’s up to you to decide.” It seems there is still a place for professional judgment in the brave new world of alternative validation approaches.

Also of interest for those you who get the print version of TIP, they’ve changed the cover format to include photographs on the covers. A welcome change, and I since photography has become a hobby of mine I’m hereby making it my life-long goal to get a photograph on the cover. That way I’ll be both inside and outside the magazine, which will pretty much make me unstoppable. is back

After almost a year off, I’ve decided to revive my other blog, It’s less of a personal journal and more of a professional one, with an emphasis on I/O Psychology, employment testing, recruitment, and selection. I had a few people at the SIOP convention last weekend either tell me they recognized my name from there or that they used to read it and were disappointed that it went away. This was kind of cool, since one of the reasons I made that site was to build my network and give prospective employers something job-related to uncover if they went and did a Google search on me.

So if you’re so inclined, check it out again. I’ll be updating every Friday.

Visit to New York City

Last weekend I journeyed to New York City for the 23rd annual SIOP convention. This was somewhat a big deal, since I hadn’t been to New York since I was like four, and a subsequent life’s worth of Dirty Harry and Curt Russle movies had convinced me that I would be pickpocketed, mugged, and ultimately eaten by homeless CHUDS within a few feet of the deboarding gate in La Guardia. This turned out to not be the case, and there was a surprisingly low number of attempts on my life during the whole trip.

Most of my time was spent in Time’s Square where the conference hotel was. The great thing about this location is that I was able to walk around with my camera stuck to my face without looking like a complete moron because every other person was doing the same thing. In fact, if you put your camera down for more than a couple of minutes, you could get a ticket. I was initially delighted with shooting all the flashy stuff at Time’s Square, but my glee diminished once I realized I was taking picture after picture of what were essentially advertisements. Sure, they’re forty foot high digital ads, but and ad for Maxell cassette tapes or a giant M&M candy is still an ad. I also would have killed for a wide angle lens with image stabalization for the night shots, but oh well.

I did manage to get away from Time’s Square some, though. Friday night I met my friend Chris and his girlfriend for dinner. When we hit the street he pointed in one direction and said “We’re headin’ that way.”

“Are there many CHUDS?” I asked, noting that the direction was into territory lacking in giant billboards and throngs of tourists packed together for protection like zebras in a herd.

It turned out that there were not many, and we had a nice dinner in an area called Hell’s Kitchen, which I always thought was where Daredevil or dancing gangsters from West Side Story hung out. Didn’t see either. The next night I hooked up with another friend, David, and went with a small group to dinner in Little Italy (which, much to my disappointment, did not contain midgets from Sicily). We took a jaunt through SoHo before taking the subway back to the hotel. That last was kind of interesting, since it was the first subway I’d ridden on where the conductor actually came on the speaker system and advised us to “BEWARE OF PICKPOCKETS AND HOLD ON TO YOUR PURSES AND BAGS, PEOPLE.”

The most disappointing part of the trip was Saturday afternoon when I decided to set out on my own down 7th avenue in search of the B&H Photo New York Superstore. I like to buy my photography stuff through B&H’s website because of its great selection and pretty good prices, so their mythical New York Superstore had always fascinated me. As far as I could tell it was supposed to be the size of Connecticut and crammed full of all kinds of photogeekery. So I trekked the 14 or so blocks from the hotel, fighting my way through crowds and navigating by the sun and the occasional street sign. When I finally got there I found out the damn thing was closed on Saturdays. As Yoda would say, TFW? Who is closed on Saturday?

So instead I walked another bunch of blocks over to the Empire State Building, figuring I could zip up to the observation deck. Only it turns out that Saturday afternoon is hardly the ideal time to do this, as the wait was over two hours long. So I turned around and trudged back to the hotel, but as it turns out David and I had time before my flight out on Sunday morning to go to the GE Building in Rockefeller Center, where I took a picture OF the Empire State Building instead of FROM it.

Overall, very fun trip. I just wish I had more time to go look around and visit other parts of the city like the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, and the site of the World Trade Center. But I had to squeeze the actual conference in there, too. And dodging those CHUDs was time consuming.

My latest column in the January 2007 TIP


Just noticed that the January 2007 issue of The Industrial Psychologist (TIP), the quarterly publication of the Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology, is online, even though I haven’t gotten my print copy yet. As usual, my column on Good Science Good Practice is in there.

This was an interesting one to write. Most of it centers on a series of articles in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology (JOOP) that ask if the journal should be more inclusive of less scientifically rigorous (and, let’s face it, less boring) articles so that it can serve a wider audience. Not everyone starts to dance from foot to foot in glee when presented with a giant table of statistics or a Methods section that takes days to read.

Of course, nobody was suggesting that JOOP should become, as I say in the column, “the I-O equivalent of People Magazine or Highlights.” But it’s still a sticky issue. How far do you bend to accommodate people without the advanced education or experience required to consume (and, perhaps more importantly, to make use of) traditionally erudite scientific research? At what point does such accommodation start to undermine the science and the mission of your publication?

Read the column for the full discussion.

I write other stuff, too


Apparently my column in the October 2006 issue of The Industrial Psychologist (or “TIP” to the cool I/O Psychologists) is out. I haven’t gotten my print copy yet, but it’s also available for virtual perusal by clicking right here. God, they still have that horrible picture of me where my head looks really tiny. I need to fix that.

Anyway, I’m sure this is of interest to exactly one regular reader of this site (hi, David!), but in this issue my colleague and I once again discuss research and other articles that exemplify the much sought after Scientist Practitioner. Here’s a taste:

Finally, Roth, Bobko, and Switzer recently published an article in Journal of Applied Psychology that illustrates how practices can sometimes drive research instead of the other way around. The authors model the behavior of the “4/5ths Rule” for determining the presence of adverse impact in a selection system, but they do so using a variety of computer simulations in both hypothetical and realistic situations. For those of you in need of a primer, the 4/5ths rule, whose origin it turns out is more indeterminable than you might guess, is a relatively simple rule of thumb that says that a selection system creates adverse impact if a protected class’s selection ratio is less than 80% (i.e., four fifths) of the selection ratio for the most often selected class. This procedure is unfettered by complex statistical significance tests and thus preferred by courts and government agencies who don’t want to require such specialized knowledge of key decision makers when it comes to evaluating adverse impact claims.

Riveting, right? I could talk more about Samantha’s potty training instead if you’d like.

How to save money on employment testing

It’s no secret that a lot of companies are looking to cut costs and increase effeciencies in their hiring processes. While pre-employment testing has demonstrated benefits in terms of getting better people in the job, it can be costly. Assessments for higher-level managers or executives can costs several thousand dollars per person, and even simpler tests of basic aptitudes like computational ability or language skills can rack up costs pretty quickly.

Fortunately, I recently found the answer to this problem while strolling through the “Everything’s A Dollar” store in Tulsa, Oklahoma. There on Aisle 3 between off-brand dishwashing liquid and various mass-produced knicknacks sat a rack full of these:

There were also booklets for math and spelling skills, and for simpler jobs like “Consultant” there were books that test your knowledge of shapes and colors.

Brilliant. I mean, you can’t beat that for a buck, and for an added bonus adverse impact will work in girls’ favor for once!

HR Systems in videogames? You bet.

World of Warcraft Logo

When not doing I/O type stuff, I’ve been playing a computer game called “World of Warcraft.” For you philistines who haven’t heard of it, it’s an online, fantasy-themed game where you create a character and play with (or against) thousands of other, real people from all over the world. This human element adds all kinds of new twists to things, one of which is the organization of, well, organizations in the virtual world.

These assemblies of players, called “guilds,” come together for a variety of reasons. Many of them are just social groups comprised of people who know each other outside of the game or who have become friends through it. Others, as I’ve recently found out, are way more like businesses. They have officers, jobs/roles, rules, policies, budgets, mission statements, performance appraisals, and selection processes for new members. Some of them even have formal work (or in this case, play) hours where you’re expected to show up on time and put your virtual nose to the virtual grindstone!

My friend, who is in one of these guilds, was telling me about them today and all this made me think how much their operations sometimes resemble real organizations. When my friend applied for membership in the guild, they took his application and reviewed his qualifications and work/play history. They then brought him along for an employment test of sorts –a foray into a particularly dangerous part of the game world that demands skillful performance and cooperation with other team members in order to succeed. During this test, the guild’s officers evaluated my friend’s performance with a number of tools that gave hard data on his and others’ performance.

These tools assessed things like how much damage team members did to enemies, how much they endangered their teammates, and how well they used their special talents. It was, in effect, the data-driven decision making of Total Quality Management adapted for use in a video game. Certain players were expected to fulfill certain roles or jobs (attacking, healing, enhancing, controlling the actions of enemies, etc.), and these statistics made it easy to see who was doing his job and who wasn’t. If someone consistently failed, there were escalating levels of reprimand. Depending on the nature of the infraction, there could be warnings, performance improvement plans, training, demotions, or even expulsion from the group. These guilds were handling things more efficiently than many real life businesses I’ve seen!

There are differences, I know, so I’ll try not to overstate things. Consequences in real life are more dear, though you may have difficulty convincing the more fanatical players of that. And there are completely different mores in games and in business. You wouldn’t, for example, tolerate an office full of people screaming vulgarities when your Hunter adds two elite MOBs while trying to kite an instance boss. …So to speak.

Anyway, I don’t have much of a point beyond the observation that organizations and various Human (or Elf or Orc) Resources functions almost seem endemic to human nature when the circumstances are right. Similar problems in real-life and in games lead to similar solutions, even if one results in increased stock price while another results in a dead dragon.

Also, I love posts that I can categorize in both “Gaming” and “I/O Psychology.”

Novelty tee shirts for I/O Psychologists

A couple of weeks ago I found myself wandering through one of those stores that sells all kinds of novelty tee shirts with pithy, snarky, rude, and otherwise clever sayings. Silly stuff like “I’m with Stupid” or “Bikini Inspector.” And I got to thinking that there’s a market here that’s not being served. Where are the novelty tee shirts for Industrial/Organizational Psychologists? It’s a wonder we bother to get dressed at all!

To remedy this, I came up with a list of slogans suitable for tee shirts or maybe the occasional bumper sticker.

Shirts for Everyone

  • I’m with low g →
  • I neither agree nor disagree
  • Subject matter expert
  • Meta analytic evidence suggests that you should just shut up
  • Low emotional stability
  • You’ve got a criterion problem
  • More research is required
  • Mom says I’m a Type II Error
  • I cause adverse impact

Snarky Shirts for Single Women Out at Bars

  • Your confidence interval is too wide
  • You have a skills gap
  • “Stupid” seems to be one of your core competencies
  • Sorry, that position has been filled and I’m not recruiting at this time

Snarky Shirts for Single Men Out at Bars

  • Beer: increasing measurement error since 1935
  • Rejected like H0
  • Unit weighted
  • I have high reliability

Shirts for Babies

  • p > .05 …MUCH greater
  • I’m significant at alpha = .05
  • Corrected for shrinkage

Now, if you laughed at any of those, congratulations –you’re a dork! Join the club and feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section.

Selection Matters dot com

Selection matters, yes it does. So I decided to create a new weblog for it: Selection Matters dot com:

Selection Matters dot com

“Selection” in this context deals with employment selection and a constellation of related sub-topics: employment testing, interviewing, recruiting, employment law, I/O psychology, and more. There are a lot of Human Resources blog out there and there are a lot of employment law blogs out there, but none of them focussed narrowly on employee selection, which is my area of expertise. So I thought it would be fun to create one. And, honestly, I also wanted to network in the I/O community and give future prospective employers something relevant to find when they did a Google search on me.

I waited a few weeks before mentioning the site here or trying to promote it elsewhere, just to see if it was really viable. Apparently it is, as I’ve had enough material to make posts nearly every day. And not one of them has a picture of Samantha in it. Yet.

I think that the site is also the best one I’ve made from a code point of view, though the real pros out there would probably still call it armature. It’s totally CSS-driven, without a single HTML table or even image tag outside of the blog posts. All the layout images are handled through CSS, as is the positioning. It also makes way more use of Movable Type than, with essentially every single page being handled by MT modules, indexes, or inserts. The only thing I use FTP for is to transfer images for individual blog posts, and I’m working on setting MT up to handle that, too.

So anyway, check out the site and if you like it, bookmark it or subscribe to a RSS feed. And let me know that you’re visiting!

Personality Psychology in the Workplace

Personality Psychology in the Workplace

I picked this one up at the SIOP convention two years ago and finally got around to reading it. I honestly don’t know why I keep buying books like this. It’s just kind of this loose glob of papers related to some aspect of personality in the workplace, tied together without a stronger thread than the general topic. None of the chapters relate to each other or build on each other, and some of them are so esoteric and rigidly written that they’re a massive chore to get through.

Actually, a few of the chapters were good and a few might be great to come back to if I needed to research a particular sub-topic (e.g., measuring personality through item response theory), but on balance I don’t feel like I got much out of it. I’m just going to have to be more careful and pick books that read more like textbooks or self-contained technical books instead of an outlet for researchers to increase their publication count.

San Diego I/O Psychologists unite!

I’m not sure why I haven’t mentioned this before, but in the last few months I’ve been fortunate to be part of a small group of people who decided to create a professional association of industrial/organizational psychologists working or studying in the San Diego Area. Starting an organization like this was both weird and banal at the same time. The idea had actually been bouncing around between myself and a few people at work for over a year, and we eventually worked up to just picking a date, calling a meeting, and contacting everyone we knew. The response was pretty astounding –over 100 I/O students and professionals showed up. We chatted a bit about what we should do and then chatted about how often we should meet, and then –presto!- We had ourselves a professional organization.

The only thing we really had to argue about was the title, which turned out to be “San Diego Industrial/Organizational Professionals” or “SDIOP” for short. There was some rancor over the “P” standing for “Professionals” or “Psychologists” as the vast majority of us (maybe even all of us) were not technically licensed to call ourselves psychologists. Having had all interest in the name game ground out of me in the course of naming products at GameSpy, I didn’t care as long as we didn’t come up with anything that abbreviated as “NAMBLA.”

Over the course of the next few weeks we organized our first meeting and I got myself elected as an officer. Not president, though –that went to the very capable Ben Schneider, who is about as an experienced and noteworthy a guy as we could have hoped for to be in charge of the thing. I ended up as Secretary/Webmaster, which worked out pretty well as one of the first things I did was bang out our website:

Kind of fruity, I know, but I like it. It was fun to design a website for once that wasn’t a blog. I actually would have linked to it earlier here but it was kind of …fundamentally broken in one spot and I didn’t figure out how to fix it until yesterday. Sorry. Nobody complained in the meantime, though, so maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought.

At any rate, if you’re an industrial/organizational psychology professional or student in the San Diego area, we’re meeting again in August. The specific place and date are still being worked out, but should be posted on the website if anybody can get that lazy webmaster to do any work.

Harry Potter and The Intelligence of Emotion

Speaking of Harry Potter, this kind of made my mind boggle. TalentSmart, a company specializing in leadership and employee assessment, wrote a white paper about the different displays of Emotional Intelligence in the Harry Potter books. It describes one dramatic exchange between Harry, Ron, and Hermione, then shares the following wisdom:

Let’s stop here a moment and notice that Ron is highly disconcerted by Harry’s suggestion and Hermione feels anxious. Harry’s friends know him well enough to realize that something major is upsetting him. Harry jumps to the conclusion that their respected schoolmaster has doubts about him. In response, Ron focuses on Harry with “don’t be stupid,” while Hermione focuses away from Harry on to Dumbledore: “Of course he doesn’t think that!”

Those familiar with the story know what happens next: Harry becomes intensely bitter and shouts at his classmates. They are left to watch his frustration “pouring out of him, his frustration and lack of news, the hurt that they had all been together without him.” Once Harry’s feelings burst out this way, there is nothing to hold them back. A painful summer cumulates in an emotional explosion directed at his schoolmates.”

I still can’t figure out if this is silly or a brilliant move to bring one part of I/O psychology closer to the masses (and market your product in the meantime). But at any rate, wonder if examining emotional intelligence in the context of a pissed off teenage wizard is the kind of thing that will rack up the credibility for a construct that’s already kind in a lot of people’s “iffy” column.

Then again, this is a company that offers a pop culture fueled training film called BRAINS! apparently for use in teaching zombies about the wonders of emotional intelligence. I’m so confused.

Bubbly teenagers dabble in psychology

Sales Girls

Here’s an interesting story that relates, in a way, to employment and selection. It’s about two girls who did a bit of a social experiment for a high school class. Both girls looked pretty similar to start with: tall, thin, blonde, and attractive. The hook is that one girl dressed up in preppy clothes that presented a clean-cut and generally “all American” look. Her friend went goth, wearing heavy eyeliner, black clothes, black hair dye, and a bared midriff. See the picture to the right if you need a visual aide.

Then both girls went to apply for jobs as register monkeys at Abercrombie & Fitch, an almost overbearingly trendy and preppy clothing store. I think you can probably see where this is going.

The A&F manager practically stumbled over himself trying to hire Ms. Preppy, despite the fact that the girl said she had no previous retailing experience and no references. I think she may have even said she was mildly retarded and was always being blamed for stealing stuff. Ms. Goth, on the other hand, was treated like a pariah by the (presumably) same A&F manager, despite the fact that this girl said she had worked two retail jobs before and had great references. The girls then repeated the experiment at Hot Topic, a much sluttier vendor of midriffs and miniskirts. The results were reversed, though not quite as drastic.

Of course, this is all utterly unscientific. It’s two girls doing clumsy manipulations on an ill-defined variable and running only two uncontrolled trials. So you aren’t going to see their stunt in the next issue of Journal of Applied Psychology (much to their dispair, I’m sure). Thing is, it doesn’t need to be scientific. There’s already plenty of scientific research showing that you’re more likely to get interviewed or hired the taller you are, the thinner you are, and the more professionally dressed you are. Same for the “like me” effect that makes an interviewer like an interviewee the more similar they are in appearance. So saying that looks really do matter shouldn’t really elicit much more than a resounding “Duh!” from the audience.

But while that may be true, it’s still incredibly easy (and a lot safer) to instead focus on a handful of simple measures to find the occasional diamond in the goth, even for low-level jobs like this. Previous work experience is a no-brainer, and I’d like to slap the A&F manager for completely overlooking this. I don’t put any stock in references (research shows there’s hardly any variance and they have almost no predictive validity), but a few simple interview questions could screen out obvious misfits. If you want to do even better you could add biodata. Even better, cognitive ability and personality tests could be used.

Sure, the retail managers in this story may think that people who look like Ms. Preppy work out better than Ms. Goth, just because that’s the way it is, and they may even have some examples to back this up. But that’s a clumsy hiring practice –measure what you need to measure and nothing else. It’s so easy to do so much better.

In fact, given all that, the funniest part of this story is the “insta-poll” the reporting website was running:

dumb poll

So, after illustrating the dumb generalizations made by retail managers about skin-deep (heck, not even that; clothes deep) features, which dumb generalization would YOU make, dear reader? Heh.

At any rate, I deal with this kind of “I just KNOW a good employee when I see one” fallacy all the time in the professional world, and it’s alarming to see that it has seeped into our shopping malls. Won’t someone think of the children!