Where Do We Draw the Line on the Use of Technology in Hiring Practices?
The idea of using brain scans in hiring, while it generated limited enthusiasm among respondents to this month's column, nevertheless was rejected by only a few. Respondents instead generally treated it as a possibility and addressed the possible practice on its merits and demerits. As Shadreck Saili put it, "… all other methods we use seem to be part of neuromanagement … any method that can be used to refine the identification of a perfect fit ... for a particular assignment is naturally welcome …"
Gerald Nanninga, after citing a number of conditions for the idea's introduction, even ventured to describe the path by which the practice will be implemented this way: "It would start at places where people already do almost anything to get in, like Google or McKinsey. Then it will move to other businesses."
The predominant view was that the practice at present has many limitations. Ann Romaine-Adelstein commented, "I doubt we can predict with validity from a scan yet who will work hard, be innovative or exercise great influence… Potential derailing behaviors are often kept in check by high levels of ambition and values or leadership behaviors at companies." Johnny added, "Neuromanagement will be based on electronic testing … however it will not detect 'will-power.' It is our will that determines how disciplined a person is and it is this will that really determines our choice(s) in life." Henry Kwok commented, "The field of neuroscience and brain scanning will only get more advanced, and thus we can expect better reading… However, the job of managing and leading will be evolving in a fast changing business environment … This goes beyond ethics to the strategy of the organization for talent management. At the end of the day, neuromanagement is a tool-it can never be an end."
Some were repelled by the notion. This group included AIM: "As a human, I feel very belittled … by such notions." Diane agreed, saying: "May I be long gone when such things are implemented." Kapil Kumar Sopory speculated, "The very idea of scanning someone's brain before employing him/her is mind boggling. And at present it may be illegal too … it is all so complex that a laboratory testing is not at all enough…" Steve Flick added, "We don't know enough about the human brain to make hiring judgments based on monitoring activity within certain parts of the brain, or about the people who plan to use neuromanagement or about their motives… I caution you to be careful what you wish for."
Others suggested alternative uses for the technique. While Dulji Sum opined that "we are not anywhere close to using brain scans for hiring," he suggested that "this could be quite an interesting tool for career guidance." Debra Feldman elaborated on this idea, asking "Has the idea of screening individuals to help them identify and choose career paths been explored … Using brain scan results to guide careers and to recommend … those who have the requisite neural structure likely to enable them to master the skills necessary for success involving financial risk taking?"
Only two respondents raised the possibility of legal issues associated with the practice. But the concern leads us to an important question: Where do we draw the line on the use of technology in hiring practices? What do you think?
For years, behavioral scientists have been telling us that they have a great deal to contribute to decision theory and management. Their work most applicable to business, however, was often overshadowed by that of economists. But as the assumptions of rational behavior and "perfect information" that formed the basis of much of the work in economics concerning markets came into question, behavioral science not based on those assumptions gained ascendance.
At first, the contributions from behavioral science were based on laboratory tests, too many of them involving handy college students. They helped describe biases (at least among those being tested). For example, we learned that people tend to devalue long-term returns in relation to short-term gains. They tend not to buy and sell according to self-set rules.
A person willing to pay up to $200 for a ticket to a sporting event is not, once he owns it, willing to sell it at any price above $200—counter to what economists would predict. Behavioral science regards it as perfectly reasonable behavior, explained by what they call the "endowment effect." It is one of many behaviors that help explain why markets are not always "rational," why they may not be a reflection of perfect information, why people buy high and sell low.
“We can begin to learn which parts of the brain govern how we feel, how we respond to stimuli, and how we react to challenges”
Brain scanning technology adds a new dimension to this work. It has provided fodder for books on a variety of subjects, all of which rely to some degree on brain reaction to stimuli. By introducing various stimuli while scanning a person's brain, we can begin to learn which parts govern how we feel, how we respond to stimuli, and how we react to challenges.
A recent study of "midlife northeast American adults" raises questions about whether we are entering the next stage in what might be termed an era of neuromanagement. In it, a group of researchers claim to have found that brain structure and the density of cells in the right posterior parietal cortex are associated with willingness to take risks. They found that participants with higher gray matter volume in this region exhibited less risk aversion. The results "identify what might be considered the first stable biomarker for financial risk-attitude," according to the authors.
The study is a distant cousin to those that have located the side of the brain associated with creativity and the portion of the brain that is stimulated, for example, by gambling or music. Assuming: (1) there will be more research efforts combining the results of brain scans with behavioral exercises, and (2) findings are proven to be more valid than, say, those associated with phrenology, it raises some interesting questions about the future.
Is it possible that some organizations selecting and hiring talent may, in the future, require a brain scan, just as some require psychological testing today? Is hiring on the basis of brain structure much different than hiring, for example, on the basis of height or other characteristics required to perform certain jobs? Or does it raise too many ethical questions? For example, who will own the data? How will it be used? How would we apply the results?
Are we entering the next stage in an age of neuromanagement? What will it look like? What do you think?
To Read More
Sharon Gilaie-Dotan, Agnieszka Tymula, Nicole Cooper, Joseph W. Kable, Paul W. Glimcher, and Ifat Levy, "Neuroanatomy Predicts Individual Risk Attitudes," The Journal of Neuroscience, September 10, 2014, 34 (37): pp. 12394-12401.
Jason Zweig, "So You Think That You're a Risk-Taker?," The Wall Street Journal, October 25-26, 2014, p. B1 and B9.