Narcissism and sadism predict likelihood of using ‘brainteaser’ questions in a job interview

New research has found a link between brainteaser interview questions and several negative personality traits. The findings appear in the journal Applied Psychology.

The researchers behind the study were interested in brainteaser questions — such as “Why is a tennis ball fuzzy?” — because they’re reportedly being used by several large tech companies. It is unclear how effective such questions are when evaluating potential employees, but research has found that interviewees find the questions distressing.

“Use of brainteasers in the hiring process provides little information about the suitability of the job applicant but considerable information about the callousness of the interviewer,” said co-author Scott Highhouse, of Bowling Green State University, in Ohio.

In a study of 736 working adults, the participants were presented with a long list of interview questions, which included traditional questions, behavioural questions (such as “Tell me about a time when you failed”), and brainteaser questions (such as “How would you explain what a chair was to an alien?”) They were asked to rate how appropriate they thought each question was.

The participants also completed measures of Machiavellianism, psychopathy, narcissism, sadism, and social competence.

Participants who considered the brainteaser questions as more appropriate tended to be more narcissistic, more sadistic, and less socially competent. They were also more likely to agree with statements such as “I believe it is important to rely on your intuition when hiring employees.”

The researchers replicated these findings in another sample of 496 adults who had made a final decision about whether to hire a job applicant.

“The present study provides evidence of individual differences in the perceived appropriateness of brainteaser questions. These results are important because these types of questions can potentially create negative perceptions of fairness and generally negative applicant outcomes,” the researchers said.

“Understanding the impetus behind using these potentially detrimental questions, therefore, can help organisations to curb their use during the hiring process and identify those who may be more effective recruiters and interviewers.”

The study, “Dark Motives and Elective Use of Brainteaser Interview Questions“, was authored by Scott Highhouse, Christopher D. Nye, and Don C. Zhang.