The effects of general mental ability and memory on adaptive transfer in work settings

  • Barbara Frank (Author)
    Ruhr-University Bochum
  • Annette Kluge (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


To handle complex technical operations, operators acquire skills in vocational training. Most of these skills are not used immediately but at some point later; this is called temporal transfer. Our previous research showed that cognitive abilities such as general mental ability (GMA) and memory are good predictors of temporal transfer. In addition to temporal transfer, operators also have to solve non-routine and abnormal upcoming problems using their skill set; this type of transfer is called adaptive transfer. Based on previous findings, it is assumed that GMA and memory will affect adaptive transfer as well. Thirty-three engineering students learned how to operate a complex technical system in normal operation with either a fixed or a contingent sequence. After two weeks, all participants had to adapt their learned skills to handle the adaptive transfer task, which was not initially trained. It was shown that high GMA positively predicted adaptive transfer, but no effect of memory was found. This implies that GMA is required to solve new complex tasks using a learned skill set. The findings are in line with studies that showed an effect of GMA on temporal transfer.




Abele, S., Greiff, S., Gschwendtner, T., Wüstenberg, S., Nickolaus, R., & Funke, J. (2012). Dynamische Problemlösekompetenz – ein bedeutsamer Prädiktor von Problemlöseleistungen in technischen Anforderungskontexten? [Engl. dynamic problem solving competency – a significant predictor for solving problems in technical requirements contexts?]. Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft, 15(2), 363–391. doi:10.1007/s11618-012-0277-9

Ackerman, P. L. (1992). Prediciting individual differences in complex skill acquisition: Dynamics of ability determinants. Journal of Applied Psychology, 77(5), 598–614. doi:10.1037//0021-9010.77.5.598

Anderson, J. R. (1982). Acquisition of cognitive skill. Psychological Review, 89(4), 369–406. doi:10.1037//0033-295x.89.4.369

Anderson, J. R. (2005). Cognitive psychology and its implications (6. Edition). New York: Worth Pub.

Arthur, W., Bennett, W., Stanush, P., & McNelly, T. (1998). Factors that influence skill decay and retention: a quantitative review and analysis. Human Performance, 11(1), 57–101. doi:10.1207/s15327043hup1101_3

Beauducel, A., & Kersting, M. (2002). Fluid and crystallized intelligence and the Berlin Model of Intelligence Structure (BIS). European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 18(2), 97. doi:10.1027//1015-5759.18.2.97

Beckmann, J. F., & Guthke, J. (1995). Complex problem solving, intelligence, and learning ability. In P. A. Frensch & J. Funke (Eds.), Complex problem solving: The European perspective (pp.177–200). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.

Blickle, G., & Kramer, J. (2012). Intelligenz, Persönlichkeit, Einkommen und Fremdbeurteilungen der Leistung in sozialen Berufen [Engl. intelligence, personality, income and external assessment of performance in social professions]. Zeitschrift für Arbeits- und Organisationspsychologie, 56(1), 1–10. doi:10.1026/0932-4089/a000070

Blume, B. D., Ford, J. K., Baldwin, T. T., & Huang, J. L. (2010). Transfer of training: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Management, 36(4), 1065–1105. doi:10.1177/0149206309352880

Bolstad, C. A., Cuevas, H. M., Costello, A. M., & Babbitt, B. (2008). Predicting Cognitive Readiness of Deploying Military Medical Teams. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting September 2008, 52(14), 970–974. doi:10.1177/154193120805201404

Brehmer, B., & Dörner, D. (1993). Experiments with computersimulated microworlds: escaping both the narrow straits of the laboratory and the deep blue sea of the field study. Computers in Human Behavior, 9(2–3), 171–184. doi:10.1016/0747-5632(93)90005-d

Buchner, A. (1995). Basic topics and approaches to the study of complex problem solving. In P. A. Frensch & J. Funke (Eds.), Complex problem solving: The European perspective (pp. 27–63). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.

Burke, L. A., & Hutchins, H. M. (2007). Training transfer: An integrative literature review. Human Resource Development Review, 6(3), 263–296. doi:10.1177/1534484307303035

Burkolter, D., Kluge, A., Sauer, J., & Ritzmann, S. (2009). The predictive qualities of operator characteristics for process control performance: The influence of personality and cognitive variables. Ergonomics, 52(3), 302–311. doi:10.1080/00140130802376067

Catrambone, R. (2002). The effects of surface and structural feature matches on the access of story analogs. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 28(2), 318–334. doi:10.1037//0278-7393.28.2.318

Cattell, R. B. (1963). Theory of fluid and crystallized intelligence: A critical experiment. Journal of Educational Psychology, 54(1), 1-22, doi:10.1037/h0046743

Cattell, R. B. (1987). Intelligence: Its structure, growth and action. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Colquitt, J. A., LePine, J. A., & Noe, R. A. (2000). Toward an integrative theory of training motivation: a meta-analytic path analysis of 20 years of research. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85(5), 678–707.doi:10.1037//0021-9010.85.5.678

Day, E. A., Arthur, W., & Gettman, D. (2001). Knowledge structures and the acquisition of a complex skill. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(5), 1022. doi:10.1037//0021-9010.86.5.1022

Day, E. A., Arthur, W., Jr., Villado, A. J., Boatman, P. R., Kowollik, V., Bhupatkar, A., et al. (2013). Relating Individual Differences in Ability, Personality, and Motivation to the Retention and Transfer of Skill on a Complex Command-and-Control Simulation Task. In W. J. Arthur, E. A. Day, W. J. Bennett & A. M. Portrey (Eds.), Individual and Team Skill Decay (pp. 283–301). New York: Routledge.

Dörner, D., & Güss, C. D. (2013). PSI: A computational architecture of cognition, motivation, and emotion. Review of General Psychology, 17(3), 297–317. doi:10.1037/a0032947

Farr, M. J. (1987). The long-term retention of knowledge and skills. New York: Springer.

Fischer, A., & Neubert, J. C. (2015). The multiple faces of complex problems: A model of problem solving competency and its implications for training and assessment. Journal of Dynamic Decision Making, 1(6), 1–13. doi:10.11588/jddm.2015.1.23945

Foss, M. A., Fabiani, M., Mané, A. M., & Donchin, E. (1989). Unsupervised practice: The performance of the control group. Acta Psychologica, 71(1–3), 23–51. doi:10.1016/0001-6918(89)90004-8

Frank, B., & Kluge, A. (2015). The predictive quality of retentivity for skill acquisition and retention in a simulated process control task. In D. de Waard, J. Sauer, S. Röttger, A. Kluge, D. Manzey, C. Weikert, A. Toffetti, R. Wiczorek, K. Brookhuis, & H. Hoonhout (Eds.), Proceedings of the human factors and ergonomics society Europe chapter 2014 annual conference. Available from

Frank, B., & Kluge, A. (submitted). Complex cognitive skill retention: The roles of general mental ability and refresher interventions in a simulated vocational setting.

Funke, J. (2010). Complex problem solving: A case for complex cognition? Cognitive Processing, 11(2), 133–142. doi:10.1007/s10339-009-0345-0

Gentner, D. (1983). Structure Mapping: A Theoretical Framework for Analogy. Cognitive Science, 7(2), 155–170. doi:10.1016/s0364-0213(83)80009-3

Gentner, D., Holyoak, K. J., & Kokinov, B. N. (2001). The Analogical Mind: Perspectives from Cognitive Science. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Gentner, D., Loewenstein, J., & Thompson, L. (2003). Learning and Transfer: A General Role for Analogical Encoding. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(2), 393–408. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.95.2.393

Gentner, D., Loewenstein, J., & Thompson, L. (2004). Analogical encoding: Facilitating knowledge transfer and integration. Proceedings of twenty-sixth annual meeting of Cognitive Science Society. Available online:

Gentner, D., Rattermann, M. J., & Forbus, K. D. (1993). The Roles of Similarity in Transfer: Separating Retrievability from Inferential Soundness. Cognitive Psychology, 25(4), 524–575. doi:10.1006/cogp.1993.1013

Goldstein, I. L., & Ford, J. K. (2002). Training in organizations. Belmont: Wadsworth.

Gonzalez, C., Thomas, R. P., & Vanyukov, P. (2005). The relationships between cognitive ability and dynamic decision making. Intelligence, 33(2), 169–186. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2004.10.002

Gottfredson, L. S. (1997). Why g matters: The complexity of everyday life. Intelligence, 24(1), 79–132. doi:10.1016/s0160-2896(97)90014-3

Hagman, J. D., & Rose, A. M. (1983). Retention of military tasks: A review. Human Factors, 25(2), 199–213. doi:10.1177/001872088302500207

Hesketh, B. (1997). Dilemmas in Training for Transfer and Retention. Applied Psychology: An international Review, 46(4), 317–386. doi:10.1111/j.1464-0597.1997.tb01234.x

Hülsheger, U. R., Maier, G. W., & Stumpp, T. (2007). Validity of General Mental Ability for the Prediction of Job Performance and Training Success in Germany: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 15(1), 3–18. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2389.2007.00363.x

Ivancic, I. K., & Hesketh, B. (2000). Learning from errors in a driving simulation: Effects on driving skill and self-confidence. Ergonomics, 43(12), 1966–1984. doi:10.1080/00140130050201427

Jäger, A. O., Sü., H.-M., & Beauducel, A. (1997). Berliner Intelligenzstruktur-Test, Form 4. Göttingen: Hogrefe.

Kersting, M., Althoff, K., & Jäger, A. O. (2008). Wilde-Intelligenz- Test 2 (WIT-2). Göttingen: Hogrefe.

Kimball, D. R., & Holyoak, K. J. (2000). Transfer and expertise. In E. Tulving & F. I. M. Craik (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Memory (pp. 109–122). New York: Oxford University Press.

Kluge, A. (2008). What you train is what you get? Task requirements and training methods in complex problem solving. Computers in Human Behavior, 24(2), 284–308. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2007.01.013

Kluge, A. (2008). Performance assessments with microworlds and their difficulty. Applied Psychological Measurement, 32(2), 156–180. doi:10.1177/0146621607300015

Kluge, A. (2014). The Acquisition of Knowledge and Skills for Taskwork and Teamwork to Control Complex Technical Systems. Heidelberg: Springer.

Kluge, A., & Burkolter, D. (2013). Training for Cognitive Readiness: Research Issues and Experimental Designs. Journal of Cognitive Engineering and Decision Making, 7(1), 96–118. doi:10.1177/1555343412446483

Kluge, A., Burkolter, D., & Frank, B. (2012). “Being prepared for the infrequent”: A comparative study of two refresher training approaches and their effects on temporal and adaptive transfer in a process control task. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting, 56(1), 2437-2441. doi:10.1177/1071181312561496

Kluge, A., & Frank, B. (2014). Counteracting skill decay: four refresher interventions and their effect on skill and knowledge retention in a simulated process control task. Ergonomics, 57(2), 175–190. doi:10.1080/00140139.2013.869357

Kluge, A., Frank, B., Maafi, S., & Kuzmanovska, A. (2015). Does skill retention benefit from retentivity and symbolic rehearsal? - two studies with a simulated process control task. Ergonomics, 59(5), 641–656. doi:10.1080/00140139.2015.1101167

Kluge, A., Frank, B., & Miebach, J. (2014). Measuring skill decay in process control - results from four experiments with a simulated process control task. In D. de Waard, K. Brookhuis, R. Wiczorek, F. di Nocera, R. Brouwer, P. Barham, C. Weikert, A. Kluge, W. Gerbino, & A. Toffetti (Eds.), Proceedings of the human factors and ergonomics society Europe chapter 2013 annual conference. Available from

Kluge, A., Nazir, S. & Manca, D. (2014). Advanced Applications in Process Control and Training Needs of Field and Control Room Operators. IIE Transactions on Occupational Ergonomics and Human Factors, 2(3–4), 121–136, doi: 10.1080/21577323.2014.920437

Kluge, A., Sauer, J., Burkolter, D., & Ritzmann, S. (2010). Designing training for temporal and adaptive transfer: a comparative evaluation of three training methods for process control tasks. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 43(3), 327–353. doi:10.2190/ec.43.3.d

Kluge, A., Sauer, J., Schüler, K. & Burkolter, D. (2009). Designing Training for process control simulators: a review of empirical findings and common practice. Theoretical Issues in Ergonomic Science, 10(6), 489–509. doi:10.1080/14639220902982192

Kontogiannis, T., & Shepherd, A. (1999). Training conditions and strategic aspects of skill transfer in a simulated process control task. Human-Computer Interaction, 14(4), 355–393. doi:10.1207/s15327051hci1404_1

Maltby, J., Day, L., & Macaskill, A. (2011). Personality, individual differences and intelligence. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Matthews, G., Davies, D. R., Westerman, S. J., & Stammers, R. B. (2000). Human performance: Cognition, stress, and individual differences. Hove: Psychology Press.

Mattoon, J. S. (1994). Designing instructional simulations: Effects of instructional control and type of training task on displayinterpretation skills. The International Journal of Aviation Psychology, 4(3), 189–209. doi:10.1207/s15327108ijap0403_1

McGrew, K. S. (2009). CHC theory and the human cognitive abilities project: Standing on the shoulders of the giants of psychometric intelligence research. Intelligence, 37(1), 1–10. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2008.08.004

Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 503, 43–59. doi:10.1007/bf02505024

Miller, G. A., Galanter, E., & Pribram, K. H. (1960). Plans and the structure of behavior. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. doi:10.1037/10039–000

Moray, N. (1997). Human Factors in Process Control. In G. Salvendy (Ed.), Handbook of Human Factors and Ergonomics (pp.1944–1971). New York: Wiley

Morris, N. M. & Rouse, W. B. (1985). Review and evaluation of empirical research in troubleshooting. Human Factors, 27(5), 503–530. doi:10.1177/001872088502700502

Noke, T. J. (2005). An Investigation into Adaptive Shifting in Knowledge Transfer. Proceedings of the twenty-seventh annual conference of the Cognitive Science Society.

Primi, R., Ferrão, M. E., & Almeida, L. S. (2010). Fluid intelligence as a predictor of learning: A longitudinal multilevel approach applied to math. Learning and Individual Differences, 20(5), 446–451. doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2010.05.001

Reason, J. (2008). The Human Contribution. Unsafe Acts, Accidents, and Heroic Recoveries. Surrey: Ashgate.

Rosander, P., Bäckström, M., & Sternberg, G. (2011). Personality traits and general intelligence as predictors of academic performance: A structural equation modelling approach. Learning and Individual Differences, 21(5), 590–596. doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2011.04.004

Salas, E., & Cannon-Bowers, J. A. (1997). Methods, tools, and strategies for team training. In M. A. Quiñones & A. Ehrenstein (Eds.), Training for a rapidly changing workplace: Applications of psychological research (pp. 249–279). Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Salas, E., Tannenbaum, S. I., Kraiger, K., & Smith-Jentsch, K. A. (2012). The science of training and development in organizations: What matters in practice. Psychological Science in Public Interest, 13(2), 74–101. doi:10.1177/1529100612436661

Schmidt, F. L., & Hunter, J. (2004). General mental ability in the world of work: occupational attainment and job performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86(1), 162. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.86.1.162

Stammers, R. B. (1996). Training issues. In N. Stanton (Ed.), Human factors in nuclear safety (pp. 189–197). London: Taylor & Francis.

Thorndike, E. L. (1904). An introduction to the theory of mental and social measurements. New York: Teachers College. Thurstone, L. L. (1938). Primary mental abilities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

U. S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (2007). Investigation report: Refinery explosion and fire. Retrieved from (09.01.2017).

van Merriënboer, J. J. G. (1997). Training complex cognitive skills: A four-component instructional design model for technical training. Englewood Cliffs: Educational Technology.

Verschuur, W., Hudson, P., Parker, D. (1996). Violations of Rules and Procedures: Results of Item Analysis and Test of the Behavioural Model. Field Study NAM and Shell Expro Aberdeen. Report Leiden University of SIP: Leiden.

Vicente, K. J. (1999). Cognitive Work Analysis: Toward Safe, Productive, and Healthy Computer-based Work. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc.

Vicente, K.J. (2007). Monitoring a Nuclear Power Plant. In A. F. Kramer, D.A. Wiegmann, & A. Kirlik (Eds.), Attention. From Theory to Practice (pp. 90-99). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Vicente, K. J., & Rasmussen, J. (1990). The ecology of human-machine systems II: Mediating direct perception in complex work domains. Ecological Psychology, 2(3), 207–249.doi:10.1207/s15326969eco0203_2

von der Heyde, A., Brandhorst, S. & Kluge A. (2015a). The impact of the accuracy of information about audit probabilities on safetyrelated rule violations and the bomb crater effect. Safety Science, 74, 160–171. doi:10.1016/j.ssci.2014.12.004

Walker, G. H., Stanton, N. A., Salmon, P. M., Jenkins, D. P., & Rafferty, L. (2010). Translating the concepts of complexity to the field of ergonomics. Ergonomics, 53(10), 1175–1186. doi: 10.1080/00140139.2010.513453

Wexley, K. N., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Developing and training of human resources in organizations. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Wickens, C. D., & Hollands, J. G. (2000). Engineering psychology and human performance. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.

Wickens, C. D. & McCarley, J. S. (2008). Applied Attention Theory. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Wittmann, W. W., & Hattrup, K. (2004). The relationship between performance in dynamic systems and intelligence. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 21(4), 393–409. doi:10.1002/sres.653

Wonderlic, I. (2002). Wonderlic Personnel Test. Libertyville: Wonderlic Inc.

Woods, D. D., O’Brien, J. F., Hanes, L. F. (1987). Human Factors Challenges in Process Control: The Case of Nuclear Power Plants. In G. Salvendy (Ed.), Handbook of Human Factors (pp. 1725–1770). New York: John Wiles & Sons.

Woods, D. D., Roth, E. M., Stubler, W. F., & Mumaw, R. J. (1990). Navigating through Large Display Networks in Dynamic Control Applications. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics 34th Annual Meeting, 396–399. doi:10.1177/154193129003400435

Wüstenberg, S., Greiff, S., & Funke, J. (2012). Complex problem solving - more than reasoning? Intelligence, 40(1), 1–14. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2011.11.003
Contributor or sponsoring agency
Deutsche Forschungsgesellschaft
Type, method or approach
original empirical work
Adaptive transfer; mental abilities; complex task; proces control; complex skills