How Neuroscience Is and Will Revolutionize HR


In December of 2014, my then four-year-old son started having seizures. After three of them occurred in a short period of time, we went to see a pediatric neurologist who first did an electroencephalogram (EEG) to begin to identify the cause of the seizures so we could determine a course of treatment.

Utilizing this technology as well as other techniques, she put our son on a medicine that has controlled his seizures. He hasn’t had one in over a year, and we are thankful for the doctors, the scientific discoveries and the technology that made this a reality.

Neuroscience has long been connected to understanding neurological disorders like seizures. It is also frequently used for explaining behavior, specifically behaviors tied to clinical diagnosis. However, neuroscience is beginning to infiltrate the workplace giving us the ability to use brain science for talent assessment. The EEG used to understand my son’s seizures is now being utilized to understand a variety of talent management questions, as Dario Nardi points on in his article “Your Brain at Work” in HR Magazine.

As we move forward into the future of behavioral assessment in the workplace, I believe neurological assessment will begin to gain ground to complement, and maybe even take the place of what is most commonly used now- the self-report assessment.

Why? Well, because it’s more honest. Self-reports are just that- self-reported. Monitoring brain activity points to a more objective approach to understand who we are and why we behave the way we do. Because of this, brain based assessments can help:

  • Create self- awareness in employees to aid in the understanding of who we are (personality) and why we behave the way we do.
  • Improve team building & talent placement by helping individuals and companies understand how to better work together.  This will help companies answer the question, is there enough cognitive diversity on our team?
  • Build better training programs through customized learning. Neuroscience can help us understand how individuals learn best and cater training and development to personalized needs.

Whereas brain science and the technology related to it is exciting to see in the talent assessment industry for the same reasons it is valuable in medicine- it aids in diagnosis which aids in better decision making- my family’s example also points to the need for caution in utilizing the technology.

When we went back last month with our son for his yearly EEG, the results still showed a “discharge”, as the doctor referred to it, in the left hemisphere of his brain. She explained to us that it was happening very infrequently, but because it was still present, there is a likelihood that if he were taken off the medicine, the seizures would begin to reoccur. Knowing that this area of the brain is tied to language, I asked her if we should be concerned about any issues in his language development. She said no. Given the amount of frequency seen, she said, it would have to be occurring 20-30% more than it is in order for there to be concerns about his language development.

This example points to why I’d be hesitant to utilize the technology (and you see I did not list it above) in selection because of the potential discrimination issues.  It could lead to discrimination in hiring against individuals (like my son, who does have a diagnosis of epilepsy) based on factors that are not tied to an individual’s ability to perform the essential functions of the job. I would hate for someone who isn’t as knowledgeable in the science to see “discharge” on someone like my son’s EEG and assume has language issues, when he in fact does not.   However, given a multiple-hurdles approach to assessment, EEGs could one day be a valuable selection tool as well, just as they are used as one technique among many to determine the best course of medical action.

So for all you talent development professionals out there or those aspiring to be, take more science classes. No field, even HR, is immune to the need for a strong STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education.

How do you see neuroscience shaping human resources? Does it excite you or scare you?

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Mary Ila Ward

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