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A Quarterly Review
of Relevant Research
From Other Disciplines

I-O Outside I-O

Mark Alan Smith


Alex Alonso
Society for Human Resource Management



Do you ever read a headline in the popular press and say, “That can’t be!  Those reporters have it all wrong!?”  Do you ever receive your APA journals summary, read an abstract from a non-I-O journal, and ask yourself what that means for your practice?  Do you ever think about multidisciplinary research and examine how other disciplines look at our issues of the day?  If you answered yes to any of these questions then this column is for you. 


I-O outside I-O is a quarterly research review designed to highlight important potentially relevant research taking place outside the field of I-O psychology.  Each research review will provide key insights into the work and how it relates to I-O.  Each research review will focus on providing insights and implications for I-O researchers and practitioners. 

For each column, we will focus our efforts on scanning research from several fields including (but not limited to) economics, organizational strategy, cognitive psychology, educational psychology, and clinical psychology.  Then, we will review the article from the perspective of I-O psychology.  In conducting each review, we will evaluate the potential impact of this research on research and practice within our field, as well as how they might be used in multidisciplinary efforts.  For example, when research from other fields on the topic of coaching has implications for our field, our review will strive to provide important perspectives that can help practitioners integrate this finding into their work. 

As a way to ease into this type of column, we decided to keep our reviews in fields closely aligned with I-O psychology especially as it relates to assessment—clinical psychology and educational psychology.  Both articles relate to the broad area of learning and include some good insights that will likely ring true to many I-O psychologists.  In particular, our first review looks into the need for supervision and coaching when learning new applied skills, and our second review examines the role of working memory training on enhancing cognitive ability.  We hope you enjoy our reviews and share your feedback as this column evolves.  Tell us how you would use this information to affect your practice or research.

Rakovshik, Sarah G., McManus, Freda, Vazquez-Montes, Maria, Muse, Kate, & Ougrin, Dennis. (2016) Is supervision necessary? Examining the effects of Internet-based CBT training with and without supervision.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 84(3), 191-199. doi: 10.1037/ccp0000079 

In this recent article from a top clinical psychology journal, the researchers studied the usefulness of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) training for therapists that is delivered via the Internet.  For those of us outside of the clinical world, it is important to know that research has supported the use of CBT for a number of clinical conditions (including depression, anxiety, and PTSD).  In particular, this form of therapy focuses on helping individuals develop personal coping strategies that focus on solving current problems and changing unhelpful thought/belief/ attitude patterns in cognitions, behaviors, and emotions.  At this point, clinicians are interested in ramping up the usage of CBT, and Internet-based training offers this type of scalability.


61 therapists from Russia and Ukraine were randomized into three conditions: (a) nontraining control, (b) Internet-based training with minimal follow up, and (c) Internet-based training with three Skype-based follow-up meetings (30 minutes each).  Therapists’ CBT skills were assessed by blind third-party evaluators who rated recordings of their treatment sessions.


Their results showed that therapists who received CBT training with Skype follow-up supervision showed significant improvement in their therapy skills when compared to both the control group and the group of therapists who received training and no further supervision.  Although they did not compare the internet training to an in-person training session, these findings show that Internet training with video chat follow up can be effective for training important knowledge and skills.

Thoughts From an I-O Perspective

In our opinion, there are a couple of main takeaways from this research.  The first involves how to best train people on new skills.  This study showed that the use of internet training with minimal follow-up was only marginally effective.  However, when used in conjunction with coaching (via video chat in this research), skills improved markedly.  In our own practice of I-O, we seem to find similar results for training of employees to conduct interviews; training on how to do it is necessary, but adding the component of coaching after practice interviews really makes it effective.

Another takeaway (from this study and other clinical research) involves the helpfulness of CBT as a broad tool that has been shown to help many people re-shape the way that they are thinking.  While this was developed and has been used for clinical purposes, it might be possible to take the fundamentals of this type of intervention and use it with non-clinical groups for other purposes (e.g., improving employee performance).  For example, we could see this as a good approach to use to increase the effectiveness of salespeople who have a great fear of rejection.

Melby-Lervåg, Monica,Redick, Thomas S., & Hulme, Charles. (2016). working memory training does not improve performance on measures of intelligence or other measures of “far transfer”: Evidence from a meta-analytic review. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 11(4) 512–534.  DOI: 10.1177/1745691616635612

In this recent article from a psychological review journal, educational psychologists conducted a meta-analysis to examine the effects of training that is designed to improve working memory on various types of ability measures.  For those of us outside of educational psychology, it is important to know that many researchers have supported the use of working memory training for improving assessment scores (including measures of intelligence). This supposition was based upon the idea that working memory training can be used to increase capacity and thus have long-term effects on cognition and cognitive abilities, such as nonverbal ability, verbal ability, word decoding, reading comprehension, or arithmetic. The potential implications for I-O psychology are far reaching because of our use of ability tests for employee selection purposes.  In particular, this meta-analysis can help to evaluate whether or not applicants would benefit by undergoing this type of test preparation prior to the testing process. 


Researchers conducted a meta-analysis on 87 studies with more than 145 experimental comparisons consisting of pretest-posttest designs for examining the impact of working memory training. Four questions were examined:

  1. Does working memory training improve performance on working memory tasks?
  2. Does working memory training improve performance on tests of nonverbal skills?
  3. Does working memory training improve performance on tests of verbal skills?
  4. Is there a relationship between intermediate-transfer and far-transfer effects on specific tests or tasks?


Their results showed that training to improve working memory can have short-term effects specifically for working memory tasks but not for other tasks or tests.  Moreover when correcting for statistical artifacts, the far-transfer impact of working memory training is completely nonexistent, which indicates a seemingly impenetrable limitation on individuals’ capacity for working memory.

Thoughts From an I-O Perspective

In our opinion, there are a few main takeaways from this research.  The first involves the best approaches for test preparation with potential test takers.  Specifically, it is important to focus test preparation on the development of mastery and not the expansion of test-taking abilities.  Although this seems natural to I-O psychologists, it remains a real area of focus for our colleagues in educational testing. 

Another takeaway is the implication of the findings on measures for employee selection.  Specifically, this hones in on the importance of using cognitive assessments in their purest form without focusing on factors immaterial to actual cognition.  These educational psychologists have confirmed concepts we in I-O psychology have known for years: Mental abilities are not as malleable as perceived by other disciplines.Therefore, building training for expanding abilities is an almost fruitless activity, especially when knowledge and skill are best suited for expansion.