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Study Reveals ‘Dark Motives’ Behind Brain Teaser Questions in Job Interviews

A new Applied Psychology study asks why brain teaser questions are often used in employment interviews despite their known lack of validity and reliability. The authors provide evidence that these questions may be used because they give the interviewers power and speak to their ‘dark personality traits.’

Monday, September 10, 2018 4:05 am EDT
"Use of brainteasers in the hiring process provides little information about the suitability of the job applicant but considerable information about the callousness of the interviewer"

A new Applied Psychology study asks why brain teaser questions are often used in employment interviews despite their known lack of validity and reliability. The authors provide evidence that these questions may be used because they give the interviewers power and speak to their ‘dark personality traits.’ 

The study notes that companies such as Xerox, Microsoft, and Zappos are purported to ask applicants such questions as “Why is a tennis ball fuzzy?” “Why are manhole covers round?” and “How many cows are in Canada?” These oddball questions are not limited to employers in the United States, as several European employers have adopted the practice as well.

For the study, 736 participants were provided with various interview questions and asked if they would consider using them when hiring someone. They then completed questionnaires that assessed their personality traits.

Participants who would consider using brainteaser interview questions when hiring someone were more narcissistic, more sadistic, less socially competent, and believed more strongly in the power of intuition in the hiring process.

“Use of brainteasers in the hiring process provides little information about the suitability of the job applicant but considerable information about the callousness of the interviewer,” said co-author Dr. Scott Highhouse, of Bowling Green State University, in Ohio.

Additional Information

Link to Study: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/apps.12163  

About Journal

Applied Psychology: An International Review is the official journal of the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP), the oldest worldwide association of scholars and practitioners of the discipline of psychology (founded in 1920).

 Applied Psychology: An International Review is a peer-reviewed, truly international outlet for the scholarly dissemination of findings in applied psychology. Articles are encouraged from all areas of applied psychology including, but not limited to, organizational, cross-cultural, educational, health, counseling, and environmental, traffic and sport psychology. Particularly invited are articles that advance understanding of psychological processes across a range of applied phenomena and studies that examine the effects of different national and cultural contexts.

About Wiley

Wiley is a global leader in education and scholarly research. Our online scientific, technical, medical, and scholarly journals, combined with our digital learning, assessment and certification solutions help universities, learned societies, businesses, governments and individuals increase the academic and professional impact of their work. For more than 210 years, we have delivered consistent performance to our stakeholders. The company's website can be accessed at www.wiley.com.

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