Rethinking Spatial Abilities: A Multimethod Examination of Its Context-Dependent Nature and Whether Tests Require Increased Conceptual, Contextual, and Perceptual Similarity to Usage Context

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Jong, Sharmili




Four studies investigated the role of personnel selection test and job-task similarity for identifying qualified job candidates. According to the Point-to-Point Theory (Asher, 1972), greater number of common points between a test and job task should result in better predictive tests. Test and job-task similarity was manipulated in three distinct ways: conceptually, contextually, and perceptually. A focus group (Study 1) was conducted with 15 Air Traffic Controllers to identify the abilities required on the job and the context in which the job tasks are performed. Based on these results,
three laboratory studies were conducted with undergraduate students at Carleton University. Study 2 examined the role of conceptual similarity by administering spatial ability tests that had high and low conceptual similarity to an Air Traffic Control-related game. Study 3 utilized tests that were best predictive of the game performance in Study 2 and administered them under a control and two different job-relevant contexts (i.e., with increased mental workload and with interruptions). Study 4 examined whether selection tests need to be visually similar to job tasks. The results revealed
that a test with both increased conceptual and contextual similarity to job tasks was the only predictor of game performance and that perceptual similarity was not necessary. This finding challenges the conventional method of personnel selection test development and administration and has implications not only for ATC but also other occupations. The results also offer an improved understanding of the spatial ability construct, one that is context dependent. A revised definition of spatial ability is proposed.






Carleton University

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