Visual skills could hold key to boosting people’s work confidence

Past research looking at mental faculties and work ability has taken the approach you’d expect – participants are asked to complete tests of memory, language, attention and so on, and their performance on those measures is then compared with how well they get on in their actual workplace. This approach has identified IQ, memory and executive function as being the faculties most strongly associated with work performance.

But rather than looking at actual work ability, Johnny Wen and colleagues have examined which mental skills are most strongly associated with a person’s confidence in their ability to work.

Seventy-three participants were recruited from an outpatient medical centre – most were of low socioeconomic status, 89 per cent were out of work, and many were suffering from psychological or medical problems (patients with dementia or a profoundly low IQ had been omitted). Participants completed a raft of neuropsychological tests and then answered questions about their attitudes to work and their beliefs in their work skills.

Of all the mental faculties tested, it was only the participants’ performance on tests of visual skill that was consistently related to their overall belief in their work ability. That is, the better a participant’s visual skills, the more confident they were likely to be in their ability to work. Visual skills were tested by asking participants to re-draw a complex figure, or to re-create a figure using blocks.

Considering their participants were largely unemployed and relatively unskilled, the researchers surmised “Perhaps this population views visual constructional skills which are required for common skilled jobs, such as carpentry, plumbing… as a tangible measure of greater employability…”.

The researchers added their results “raise the intriguing possibility that targeting of visual spatial skills for remediation and development might play a separate and unique role in the vocational rehabilitation of a lower socioeconomic status population” by boosting their confidence in their own employability.

Wen, J.H., Boone, K. & Kim, K. (2006). Ecological validity of neuropsychological assessment and perceived employability. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 28, 1423-1434.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.