Does the amount you sweat predict your job performance? – Tauhid Zaman

MIT Sloan Assistant Professor Tauhid Zaman

From the Wall Street Journal

In a recent study, people who sweated when the stakes were low did the best when stakes were high.

IN “GATTACA,” THE DYSTOPIAN cult classic set in the “not too distant future,” parents genetically program their children before birth, coding them for desirable strengths and skills. For them, biometric data is destiny: A person’s genetic code, tracked through a massive database, determines their career, which, of course, affects everything.

Nearly 20 years after that movie’s release, we are closer than ever to using biometric data as part of the hiring process, specifically to solve one chronic problem: Employers are bad at predicting who will perform under pressure. Each year tens of thousands of new Wall Street hires undergo boot camps that cost up to $6,000 a person, yet finance has a suicide rate 1.5 times the national average and the second- highest voluntary turnover rate (14.2%, after the hospitality industry). And if an industry as well-funded as finance struggles with vetting applicants, what hope do smaller businesses have?

My colleague Juan Pablo Vielma and I ran a study at MIT in which participants answered math questions for money, first in a low-pressure, untimed round and then in a highpressure, timed round with potential bonuses. Surprisingly, someone’s performance when stakes were low was irrelevant when the stakes were raised. Only one biological indicator predicted performance: stress levels, as measured by galvanic skin response. GSR monitors the electricity conducted by your skin, which is determined by the volume of your sweat. People who sweated when the stakes were low did the best when stakes were high. More than anything else, the test revealed character, which is difficult to fake: The people who took both tasks seriously weren’t rattled when the chips were down.

Read the full post at the Wall Street Journal.

Tauhid Zaman is the KDD Career Development Professor in Communications and Technology at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

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