Research Out Front: Experts Look Ahead to 2023 and Beyond

January 4, 2023

What differentiates how people are able to hold their attention on a task? How do people acquire new skills? These are tough questions that Georgia Tech cognitive scientist Alex Burgoyne is trying to find good answers to.  

For decades, schools, companies, and federal agencies have tried to use standardized tests to determine whether someone will be a success before they are hired or assigned. But Burgoyne says there are better ways to figure out if a candidate is likely to be a good fit.  

“We’re looking at more fluid abilities like problem-solving, working memory, and how people can control their attention,” explains Alexander Burgoyne, a cognitive scientist in the School of Psychology.

Burgoyne and his fellow researchers are taking a closer look at the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, better known as the ASVAB. With the U.S. Navy, Burgoyne and his colleagues are using modeling to determine if pilots, air traffic controllers, and flight officers are hitting the mark during their training. The ASVAB, which is highly focused on acquired math and verbal skills, may not measure more specific skills necessary for success.

“Air traffic controllers, for example, need to be able to maintain focus for long periods of time. Whether or not they can make change for a $10 bill is less important for their day-to-day jobs,” he says. 

Burgoyne says his work also addresses adverse impact in employment and selection practices. Acquired knowledge tests like the ASVAB often have stratified results that make it harder for applicants from minority communities to succeed. 

“The military has a duty to improve their selection procedures to reduce inequities, and they can all better predict who will do well in certain types of training,” he says.

Burgoyne is conducting testing with naval trainees at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, but Fortune 500 companies have also been in contact with him about this cognitive ability research.

Because every failed personnel search or newly assigned team member who can’t pass training costs an organization valuable time, money, and resources, says Burgoyne, “Every company that is hiring must worry about whether they have equitable selection measures in place.” He says it’s a systemic issue and currently a hot topic of conversation.

In the next year, Burgoyne and his colleagues in the Attention and Working Memory Lab at Georgia Tech will continue identifying how to measure different levels of memory capacity and mental focus, as a better determinant for successful performance in a variety of settings. 

Learn more about Burgoyne and five fellow researchers in the Georgia Tech newsroom.

For More Information Contact

Steven Norris
Senior Director of Social Media and Media Relations
Georgia Tech

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