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Study Provides Explanation for Why Older Workers Succeed

Despite Age-Related Declines in Mental Ability

CHICAGO -- There are certainly worse things to have than a high IQ, but when it comes to successful job performance a high level of practical intelligence may be even more important than an abundance of academic intelligence. That's the conclusion of a study of 200 high-level managers presented at the 105th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association (APA) in Chicago.

The study was triggered by what psychologist Regina Colonia- Willner, Ph.D., calls "one of the major paradoxes of applied aging research": since it is known that intellectual capability declines with age, why do some older workers continue to be successful despite having as little as 40 percent of the intellectual ability of the average 25 year-old? The answer, she found, is practical intelligence, which is not measured by standard IQ tests.

In contrast with academic knowledge, which is acquired through formal instruction, practical knowledge refers to the acquisition through experience of practical know-how in situations where information is not openly expressed, Dr. Colonia-Willner says. In a workplace setting, that could mean getting a sense of how a particular department or division operates -- its internal dynamics, the interplay of various personalities, the similarities and differences of people's working styles --without having to be told.

For her study, Dr. Colonia-Willner asked the executives of a bank employing over 22,000 people to select the managers they considered to be their best performers. The 43 selected top performers were compared with 157 randomly selected managers on two measures of reasoning ability (which generally reflects IQ) and a third assessment that measured practical intelligence.

Dr. Colonia-Willner found that while increased age was associated with declines in performance on all three tests, there was markedly less decline in the measurement of practical intelligence. Additionally, the best performing older managers had high levels of practical intelligence though scored lower on the two psychometric measures of reasoning ability. And whereas the measure of practical intelligence predicted managerial skill -- as measured by such things as salary increases and performance reviews -- the other two measures of academic intelligence did not.

Presentation: "Banking on Practical Intelligence: Aging and Cognitive Efficiency among Managers" by Regina Colonia-Willner, Ph.D., Practical Intelligence at Work, Inc., Atlanta, GA, Session 3257, 2:00 PM, August 17, 1997, Palmer House Hilton Hotel, Parlor B.

(Full text available from the APA Public Affairs Office.)

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 151,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 50 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 58 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

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