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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 May 2007, 23:15 GMT 00:15 UK
Employee test 'spots inattention'
Distracted woman
Employers want people who stay focused on the task
Employers may soon be able to use a computer test to find out how easily distracted job applicants are.

Professor Nilli Lavie, of University College London, said her test could identify people who find it hard to stay focused on the job.

She said it could help weed out people who could be a risk in jobs such as pilots and bus drivers.

Experts said aptitude tests and job interviews would still be key to the recruitment process.

Psychometric testing has become a common part of recruitment in the UK, with large companies particularly interested.

Questions are supposed to reveal more about character traits.

There's no way of doctoring the results
Professor Nilli Lavie, University College London

The latest research used a series of similar letter puzzles flashed up on a computer screen, measuring the response time for each one.

Irrelevant numbers and letters also appeared on the edges of the screen in an attempt to distract the volunteer.

In some participants, response times and accuracy were significantly poorer.

Critical jobs

When these findings were compared with a questionnaire which volunteers had been asked to fill in with complete honesty, those whose performance had slipped in the computer test generally were more likely to have scored higher for 'distractibility' in the questionnaire.

Writing in the journal Psychological Science, Professor Lavie said: "People come away from our test thinking they've done really well and haven't been distracted at all when in fact their response times increase and they tend to make more mistakes.

"There's no way of doctoring the results.

"Distraction at work can have serious implications - it is known to be associated with a higher risk of being involved in various types of accidents.

"There are many areas where productivity critically depends on the ability of staff to stay focused."

Cary Cooper, professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University School of Management, said that the extra test could prove useful in identifying unsuitable applicants for certain jobs.

He said: "Obviously, it's important for certain people to not be distracted - who wants an easily distracted air traffic controller?

"However, this would be just one item in the 'assessment centre' that modern companies use - the job interview, a work-related test, and perhaps other psychometric tests."


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