Assessing Personality

Overview of Personality Assessment

Psychologists measure personality through objective tests (such as self-reports) and projective measures.

Learning Objectives

Compare various objective vs. projective personality assessments

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Psychologists seek to measure personality through a number of methods, the most common of which are objective tests and projective measures.
  • Objective tests, such as self-report measures, rely on an individual’s personal responses and are relatively free of rater bias.
  • Some of the more widely used personality self-report measures are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Neo Pi-R, MMPI/MMPI-2, 16 PF, and Eysenck Personality Questionnaire.
  • Projective measures are founded in psychoanalytic theories of personality and involve using ambiguous stimuli to reveal inner aspects of an individual’s personality.

Key Terms

  • validity: The extent to which a concept, conclusion, or measurement is well-founded and corresponds accurately to the real world.
  • projective measure: A personality test that is used to identify underlying personality traits; responses are highly subjective.
  • apperception: The mind’s perception of itself as the subject or actor in its own states, unifying past and present experiences; self-consciousness; perception that reflects upon itself.
  • clinical: Of or pertaining to a medical facility.
  • reliability: The overall consistency of a measure; the likelihood that a measure can be repeated.

Psychologists seek to measure personality through a number of methods. The most common of these methods include objective tests and projective measures.

Objective Tests

An objective test is a psychological test that measures an individual’s characteristics in a way that isn’t influenced by the examiner’s own beliefs; in this way, they are said to be independent of rater bias. They usually involve the administration of a bank of questions that are marked and compared against standardized scoring mechanisms, in much the same way that school exams are administered. Objective tests tend to have more validity than projective tests (described below); however, they are still subject to the willingness and ability of the examinee to be open, honest, and self-reflective enough to accurately represent and report their true personality.

The most common form of objective test in personality psychology is the self-report measure. Self-report measures rely on information provided directly by participants about themselves or their beliefs through a question-and-answer format. There are a number of test formats, but each one requires respondents to provide information about their own personality. They typically use multiple-choice items or numbered scales, which represent a range from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).

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Self-report measure: Self-report measures typically use multiple-choice items or numbered scales, which represent a range from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).

Self-report measures are used with both clinical and nonclinical populations and for a variety of reasons, from diagnostic purposes to helping with career guidance. Some of the more widely used personality self-report measures are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Neo Pi-R, MMPI/MMPI-2, 16 PF, and Eysenck Personality Questionnaire.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is based on Carl Jung’s theory of personality. The MBTI is one of the most popular personality inventories used with nonclinical populations; it has been criticized, however, for its lack of statistical validity and low reliability. The MBTI measures individuals across four bi-polar dimensions:

  • Attitudes: Extraversion-Introversion. This measures whether someone is “outward-turning” and action-oriented or “inward turning” and thought-oriented.
  • The perceiving function: Sensing- Intuition . This measures whether someone understands and interprets new information using their five senses (sensing) or intuition.
  • The judging function: Thinking-Feeling. This measures whether one tends to make decisions based on rational thought or empathic feeling.
  • Lifestyle preferences: Judging-Perceiving. This measures whether a person relates to the outside world primarily using their judging function (which is either thinking or feeling) or their perceiving function (which is either sensing or intuition).

Neo Pi-R

The Revised Neo Pi (personality inventory) is designed to measure personality traits using the five factor model. According to the five factor model, the five dimensions of personality lies along a continuum of opposing poles and include Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extroversion , Agreeableness, and Neuroticism .

Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI)

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is the most widely used personality inventory for both clinical and nonclinical populations, and is commonly used to help with the diagnosis of personality disorders. It was first published in 1943, with 504 true/false questions; an updated version including 567 questions was released in 1989, and is known as the MMPI-2. The original MMPI was based on a small, limited sample composed mostly of Minnesota farmers and psychiatric patients; the revised inventory was based on a more representative, national sample to allow for better standardization.

The MMPI-2 takes 1–2 hours to complete. Responses are scored to produce a clinical profile composed of 10 scales: hypochondriasis, depression, hysteria, psychopathic deviance (social deviance), masculinity versus femininity, paranoia, psychasthenia (obsessive/compulsive qualities), schizophrenia, hypomania, and social introversion. There is also a scale for ascertaining risk factors for alcohol abuse. In 2008, the test was revised once more using more advanced methods; this is the MMPI-2-RF. This version takes about one-half the time to complete and has only 338 questions. Despite the new test’s advantages, the MMPI-2 is more established and is still more widely used. Although the MMPI was originally developed to assist in the clinical diagnosis of psychological disorders, it is now also used for occupational screening for careers like law enforcement, and in college, career, and marital counseling (Ben-Porath & Tellegen, 2008).

16 PF

The 16 PF (personality factor) inventory measures personality according Cattell’s 16 factor theory of personality. The 16PF can also used be used by psychologists and other mental health professionals as a clinical instrument to help diagnose psychiatric disorders and help with prognosis and therapy planning. It provides clinicians with a normal-range measurement of anxiety, adjustment, emotional stability, and behavioral problems. It can also be used within other areas of psychology, such as career and occupational selection.

Eysenck Personality Questionnaire

The Eysench Personality Questionnaire is based on Eysenck’s model of personality, and was developed from a large body of research and laboratory experiments. Eysenck’s inventory focuses on three dimensions: psychoticism, extraversion, and neuroticism.

Projective Measures

Projective measures, unlike objective tests, are sensitive to the rater’s or examiner’s beliefs. Projective tests are based on Freudian psychology (psychoanalysis) and seek to expose people’s unconscious perceptions by using ambiguous stimuli to reveal the inner aspects of an individual’s personality. Two of the most popular projective measures are the Thematic Apperception Measure and the Rorschach test.

The advantage of projective measures is that they purportedly expose certain aspects of personality that are impossible to measure by means of an objective test; for instance, they are more reliable at uncovering unconscious personality traits or features. However, they are criticized for having poor reliability and validity, lacking scientific evidence, and relying too much on the subjective judgment of a clinician.

Rorschach Test

The Rorchach test consists of ten inkblots, which were created by Herman Rorschach dribbling ink on paper and then folding over the paper to create a symmetrical design. During the test, participants are shown the inkblots and asked what each one looks like. The test administrator then asks questions about the responses, such as which part of the inkblot was linked to each response. This test can be used to examine a person’s personality charactersitics and emotional functioning, and is thought to measure unconscious attitudes and motivations.

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Simulated inkblot: This simulated inkblot is similar to those that make up the Rorschach test; a Rorschach inkblot would be filled in rather than a dotted pattern.

Thematic Apperception Test

The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) consists of 30 cards (including one blank card) depicting ambiguous drawings. Test-takers are asked to tell a story about each picture, including the background that led up to the story and the thoughts and feelings of the characters. Like the Rorschach test, the results are thought to indicate a person’s personality characteristics and emotional functioning.

Validity and Reliability of Personality Assessments

Personality assessments vary in their levels of validity and reliability.

Learning Objectives

Evaluate the concepts of validity and reliability in the context of personality assessment

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Validity refers to whether or not a test actually measures the construct that it is meant to measure; reliability refers to the degree to which a test produces stable and consistent results.
  • Objective tests tend to be relatively free from rater bias and are thought to have more validity than projective tests.
  • The challenge of objective tests, however, is that they are subject to the willingness and ability of the respondents to be open, honest, and self-reflective enough to represent and report their true personality.
  • Projective tests have been criticized for having poor reliability and validity, for lacking scientific evidence, and for relying too much on the subjective judgment of a clinician.
  • One problem with personality measures is that individuals have a tendency to endorse vague generalizations that could apply to anyone; this is known as the Forer Effect.

Key Terms

  • psychometric: The design of psychological tests to measure intelligence, aptitude, and personality, and the analysis and interpretation of their results.
  • reliability: The overall consistency of a measure; its ability to produce similar results under consistent conditions.
  • validity: The extent to which a concept, conclusion, or measurement is well-founded and corresponds accurately to the real world.
  • Factor analysis: A statistical method used to describe variability among observed, correlated variables in terms of a potentially lower number of unobserved variables.

Not all personality measures are created equal. When it comes to examining the validity and reliability of personality measures, some have better psychometric properties than others. Validity refers to whether or not a test actually measures the construct that it is meant to measure; reliability refers to the degree to which a test produces stable and consistent results.

Objective Tests

Objective tests (such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Neo Pi-R, Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, 16PF, and Eysenck Personality Questionnaire) are thought to be relatively free from rater bias, or the influence of the examiner’s own beliefs. Because of this, objective tests are said to have more validity than projective tests. The challenge of objective tests, however, is that they are subject to the willingness and ability of the respondents to be open, honest, and self-reflective enough to represent and report their true personality; this limits their reliability.

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) attempts to account for these weaknesses by including validity and reliability scales in addition to its clinical scales. One of the validity scales, the Lie Scale (or “L” Scale), consists of 15 items and is used to ascertain whether the respondent is “faking good” (in other words, under-reporting psychological problems in order to appear healthier). For example, if someone responds “yes” to a number of unrealistically positive items such as “I have never told a lie,” they may be trying to “fake good” or appear better than they actually are.

Reliability scales test the instrument’s consistency over time, assuring that if you take the MMPI today and then again five years later, your two scores will be similar. Beutler, Nussbaum, and Meredith (1988) gave the MMPI to newly recruited police officers and then to the same police officers two years later. After two years on the job, police officers’ responses indicated an increased vulnerability to alcoholism, somatic symptoms (vague, unexplained physical complaints), and anxiety. When the test was given an additional two years later (four years after starting on the job), the results suggested high risk for alcohol-related difficulties.

The MMPI-2 also revised many of the limitations within the original MMPI, thereby increasing its usefulness. For example, the original MMPI was intended to be used in clinical populations, and the normative sample (or the sample of individuals whose scores are used as a baseline against which all test-takers’ scores are compared) consisted of psychiatric patients. For a clinical population, this information can reveal what is normative for that particular population; however it limits the usage and application to other nonclinical populations. The MMPI-2 used a normative sample from within the general population that was thought to be representative of all major demographic variables, expanding its applicability.

Many objective personality measures were created after years of research, such as the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire. Eysenck spent many years working with factor analysis and conducting countless laboratory experiments. The result is that the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire has excellent reliability and validity. Additionally, there is a large body of research that demonstrates the practical uses of the Eysenck measure.

Projective Tests

In contrast to objective tests, projective tests are much more sensitive to the examiner’s beliefs. Projective measures like the Rorschach Inkblot Test and the Thematic Apperception Test have been criticized for having poor reliability and validity, for lacking scientific evidence, and for relying too much on the subjective judgment of a clinician. Some projective tests, like the Rorschach, have undergone standardization procedures so they can be relatively effective in measuring depression, psychosis, and anxiety. In the Thematic Apperception Test, however, which involves open-ended storytelling, standardization of test administration is virtually nonexistent, making the test relatively low on validity and reliability. Projective tests are often considered best used for informational purposes only, and not as a true measure of personality.

For many decades, traditional projective tests have been used in cross-cultural personality assessments. However, it was found that test bias limited their usefulness. It is difficult to assess the personalities and lifestyles of members of widely divergent ethnic/cultural groups using personality instruments based on data from a single culture or race. Therefore, it was vital to develop other personality assessments that explore factors like race, language, and level of acculturation (Hoy-Watkins & Jenkins-Moore, 2008).

The Forer Effect

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Astrological signs: Horoscopes are often endorsed because of the Forer effect. The generalized nature of the descriptions allows for a large number of individuals to believe that they are accurate.

One problem with personality measures is that individuals have a tendency to endorse vague generalizations. This is one reason why horoscopes continue to be popular and trusted despite their lack of reliability or validity. In 1948, Bertram Forer gave a personality inventory to his students in which he gave them each what he claimed was a unique personality profile, and he asked the students to rate how well the profile applied to each of them. What the students did not know is that they all received the exact same profile, consisting of very generalized descriptions which could apply to almost anyone. Overall, the students all rated the profile as near excellent at describing them.

In another study, students were given a personality inventory and then were given two personality profiles: an accurate one based upon the results of the inventory they took, and a generalized one that could apply to almost anyone. The students were then asked which of the two personality profiles was their own. More than half of the students selected the generalized profile as their own. Both of these studies demonstrate how personality measures can provide general or vague descriptions and still be accepted by individuals as accurate. This effect has come to be known as the Forer effect.

Personality Testing in the Workplace

Using personality tests as hiring or evaluation tools in the workplace is very controversial.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the personality assessments most commonly used in the workplace and the controversies surrounding such use

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Personality tests have been used by some employers in the assessment and selection of potential employees, with the goal of reducing turnover rates by identifying candidates that are a “better fit” for the job.
  • The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is a highly validated psychopathology test that is often used in the hiring of police officers, fire fighters, and other security personnel required to carry weapons.
  • The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a popular test that measures psychological preferences for how people perceive the world and make decisions. It identifies 16 personality types along four scales: extroversion-introversion, sensing- intuition, thinking-feeling, and judging-perceiving.
  • Because studies using the MBTI show clusters of different personality types in different professions, the test has become popular with recruiters and managers.
  • A key concern about using personality tests in the workplace is the potential they create for illegal discrimination against certain groups resulting from narrow samples in which those groups are underrepresented.
  • The MBTI in particular has been criticized for its lack of validity and its lack of accuracy in measuring a person’s personality.

Key Terms

  • validity: A quality of a measurement indicating the degree to which the measure reflects the underlying construct; whether it measures what it purports to measure.
  • aptitude: Natural ability to acquire knowledge or skill.
  • normative: Of or pertaining to a standard; attempting to establish or prescribe a standard.

A personality test is a questionnaire or other standardized instrument designed to reveal aspects of an individual’s character or psychological makeup. These tests are used in a range of contexts, including individual and relationship counseling, career counseling, and customer interaction management. They are sometimes frequently used as a hiring or evaluation tool in the workplace.

Employment testing is the practice of administering written, oral, or other tests as a means of determining the suitability or desirability of a job applicant. The premise is that if test scores are found to correlate with job performance, then it is economically useful for the employer to select employees based on scores from that test. Personality tests have been used by some employers in the assessment and selection processes because they believe that they can reduce their turnover rates and prevent economic losses by identifying candidates that are a “better fit” for the job.

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Personality Assessments: Employers often use personality tests in their hiring processes in order to identify candidates they believe are a “better fit” for the job.

Types of Tests Used in the Workplace

Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is a highly validated psychopathology test that is generally used in a clinical psychology setting and may reveal potential mental health disorders. Notable situations in which the MMPI is often used include final selection for police officers, firefighters, and other security and emergency personnel, especially when the employees are required to carry weapons. The controversies associated with assessing mental health for the purposes of job selection are discussed below; in these cases, however, an assessment of mental stability and fitness can be reasonably related to and necessary for optimal job performance.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is the name of a personality test designed to measure psychological preferences for how people perceive the world and make decisions. Based on Carl Jung’s Psychological Types, it was developed during World War II by Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs and is perhaps the world’s most popular personality type description tool today. This 16-type indicator test uses two opposing behavioral divisions along four scales which, when combined, yield a “personality type;” the four scales include extroversion-introversion, sensing-intuition, thinking-feeling, and judging-perceiving.

The Myers–Briggs Type Indicator is used by 89 of the Fortune 100 companies, and is very popular in businesses around the world. Because studies using the MBTI show clusters of different personality types in different professions, the test has become popular with recruiters and managers. For instance, the proportion of engineers who are INTJ (scoring high on introversion, intuition, thinking, and judging) is higher among this profession than the 1% found in the general population.

Controversies

Many companies use personality testing as part of their hiring process, but research has found that personality tests are often misused in recruitment and selection when they are mistakenly treated as if they were normative measures.

Discrimination and Accuracy

A key concern about using personality tests in the workplace is the potential they create for illegal discrimination against certain groups. A major criticism of many personality tests is that because they are sometimes based on narrow samples in which white, middle-class males are over-represented, they tend to skew test results toward this identity. That is, they normalize one identity while pathologizing other identities. For example, the sample used to develop the original MMPI consisted primarily of white people from Minnesota. While the MMPI-2 intentionally expanded this sample to address this bias, critics argue that Asian Americans, Hispanics, and under-educated people are still largely underrepresented.

As mentioned above, tests like the MMPI are often useful in identifying mental illness. When they are used to assess potential employees in the workplace, however, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission can interpret them as an attempt by an employer to gain knowledge of a medical condition prior to an offer of employment. This is a form of discrimination and an illegal basis for a hiring decision in the United States.

Another danger of using personality tests in the workplace is that they can create false-negative results (for instance, honest people being labeled as dishonest), especially in cases when the applicant is stressed. Privacy issues also arise when applicants are required to reveal private thoughts and feelings in their responses and perceive this as a condition for employment.

Criticisms of the MBTI

There are several criticisms specifically regarding the validity of the MBTI as a useful measure of personality. The MBTI is not yet scientifically proven, and skeptics—including many psychologists—argue that the MBTI has not been validated by double-blind tests (in which participants accept reports written for other participants and are asked whether or not the report suits them). Some even demonstrate that profiles can apparently seem to fit any person due to ambiguity of their basic terms.

Critics also argue that people do not fit easily into one of 16 types because they use different styles of thinking at different times. This can be especially true when comparing behavior at home or with friends to behavior at work—limiting the test’s accuracy for employment. Critics argue that the test results of the MBTI should not be used to label, evaluate, or limit the respondent in any way. Since all types are valuable, and the MBTI measures preferences rather than aptitude, the MBTI is not considered a proper instrument for purposes of employment selection. Many professions include highly competent individuals of different types with complementary preferences.