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Ability

Knowledge or skill, including the potential to acquire knowledge or skills and those already acquired.

The capacity to learn, commonly known as aptitude, and the demonstration of skills and knowledge already learned, called achievement, are among the factors used to evaluate intelligence. When evaluating or comparing subjects, two kinds of abilities are considered: verbal ability, including reading comprehension, ability to converse, vocabulary, and the use of language; and problem-solving ability, which includes a person's capacity to make good decisions given a set of circumstances.

Relatively straightforward tests of ability are often used by employers to determine an applicant's skills. For example, a person applying for a job as a word processor may be given a keyboarding test, while a bus-driving applicant would be given a driving test. Tests to evaluate more complex abilities, such as leadership, motivation, and social skills tend to be less precise.

Developed around the turn of the twentieth century, formal tests used by psychologists and educators to measure aptitude and achievement remain controversial. Intelligence, or IQ, tests are faulted for ignoring cultural or social biases, particularly with regard to schoolchildren, and critics contend such standardized measures cannot adequately predict a person's future performance.

Further Reading

Atkinson, Rita L.; Richard C. Atkinson; Edward E. Smith; and Ernest R. Hilgard. Introduction to Psychology. 9th ed. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987.

Zimbardo, Philip G. Psychology and Life. 12th ed. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1988.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Abacus to Courage