9 Cognitive ability facts everyone needs to know and why

9 Cognitive ability facts everyone needs to know and why

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Cognitive ability is defined as a “mental capability that involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly  and learn from experience” (Gottfredson, 1997).  Wikipedia defines cognitive ability as “  


are brain-based skills which are needed in acquisition of knowledge, manipulation of information, and reasoning. They have more to do with the mechanisms of how people learn, remember, problem-solve, and pay attention, rather than with actual knowledge.” The other term used to refer to cognitive ability is general mental ability. General Mental Ability(GMA) put simply is the ability to reason and find solutions to problems. There are various tests of General Mental Ability(GMA) used for selecting employees. Despite the value of cognitive ability on life outcomes, very few people have facts about how cognitive ability impacts life outcomes.  Such facts can be used to positively impact national policies and organisation specific policies. Below  I share some of the facts that every individual need to know about General Mental Ability or cognitive ability.


  1. Cognitive ability or General Mental Ability (GMA) is the biggest predictor of job performance compared to all other factors. The interesting thing about this finding is that GMA  is the highest predictor of job performance across all jobs. The contribution of cognitive ability increases with the complexity of the role. This means that if an employer underestimates the role of cognitive ability in their hiring they are likely to end up with people who have no capacity for their roles. Mata analytic studies have so far shown that cognitive ability contributes 40% to 65% to the variation in job performance. This is nearly half, and there is no other factor which contributes to job performance with this level of magnitude.
  2. Cognitive ability predict success in training as well. We see most organisation wasting training resources when they enrol people who cannot learn and also transfer what they will have learnt to the practical work situations. Imagine the wastage by organisations in this regard. The wastage is huge. 
  3. General mental ability or cognitive ability predicts success in all endeavours of life. Generally, people with higher cognitive ability tend to do well across all facets of life. There is plenty of research to show that people who are generally intelligent do much better in life than less intelligent people.  This assertion is true assuming the persons concerned do not have serious personality defects.
  4. People with high cognitive ability tend to do well in life generally regardless of the environment they are operating in. Because such people are clever, they tend to find solutions to problems quickly.
  5. Countres with citizens with a high cognitive ability on average tends to outperform those with low cognitive ability. Singapore, Japan, South Korea etc outperform those countries with low on cognitive ability. The average cognitive ability of citizens has been used to predict the socio-economic prosperity of nations.  This is why some countries are in investing heavily in the cognitive development of their citizens especially investing in pre-school education including the provision of nutritious food to kids in pre-school.
  6. Cognitive ability is largely hereditary and partly childhood experience. This means after adulthood, no matter how much you try, there is unlikely to be any change in cognitive ability for adults.  
  7. Good nutrition is a major factor in increasing the cognitive ability of a child during their childhood years. In other countries they know the value of nutrition on the cognitive development of their future workers, therefore they have deliberately come up with feeding schemes for kids in pre-school and some in primary schools. This is a worthy investment for any government.
  8. Cognitive ability can be impacted negatively by substance abuse during childhood. Try by all means to ensure that your kids are not subjected to substance abuse during their childhood years as this impact negatively on their cognitive ability development. 
  9. A good home environment, free of abuse impacts positively on the cognitive development of a child. This means that parents can benefit a lot if they can create a conducive home environment for children. The unfortunate part is that most parents realise the damage done on their kids due to poor emotional environment when the kids are already in adulthood.


As can be seen from the facts above, cognitive ability plays a big role in the prosperity of nations and individuals. Organisations that employ cognitive ability testing as part of their employee selection process tend to outperform those that do not. Low cognitive ability countries struggle economically compared to those countries with high cognitive ability.  An understanding of how cognitive ability affect life outcomes can help countries and organisations to put policy interventions that will benefit their nations and organisations respectively.


Memory Nguwi is an Occupational Psychologist, Data Scientist, Speaker, & Managing Consultant- Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm. https://www.linkedin.com/in/memorynguwi/ Phone +263 4 481946-48/481950/2900276/2900966 or cell number +263 77 2356 361 or email: mnguwi@ipcconsultants.com  or visit our website at www.ipcconsultants.com

Memory Nguwi
Super User
This article was written by Memory a Super User at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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