Personality and its Assessment Personality has different meanings for theologians, philosophers and sociologists, and within psychology it has been defined in many ways (Allport, 1937). The main reason that leads so many psychologists to explore the human personality is that by doing so, the opportunity to predict a person’s behaviour in a situation presents itself, even before a situation occurs. Knowing more about one’s personality also allows us to learn about his/her dominant traits, information that can be of use in many aspects of everyday life (e. . recruiting the right people for the right jobs, treating a patient with the most suitable therapy etc. ). Many psychologists today (Block, Weiss and Thorne, 1979) define personality as a “more or less stable, internal factors that make one person’s behaviour consistent from one time to another, and different from the behaviour other people would manifest in comparable situations” (Childe, 1968). This definition gives us a clear view of the four major assumptions in the concept of personality: stable, internal, consistent and different.
From the constructivist view, personality is seen as the combination of three equally important components: the actor, the observer and the self-observer. The actor component refers to the characteristics that a person brings to the social situation in which personality is constructed. These include all the genetic factors that may have the influence on a person’s behaviour, what he/she is capable or incapable to perform, as well as the individual’s history and present goals. The observer component refers to the way the actor is perceived by other people.
Observers use the actor’s behaviour to construct an impression of the actor’s personality by adding social significance and meaning to the presented behaviour. As a result of this, we categorize people’s behaviour into different groups (e. g. ‘friendly’, ‘obnoxious’). These categories, apart from telling us about directly observable information, also add inferred meanings. The self-observer component is the direct consequence of the human ability to be self-aware. We can observe ourselves as we can observe other people, and we can see ourselves as we think other people see us.
Throughout time, researchers have constructed various tools, scales and tests to attempt assessing personalities. The four main assessment methods currently used are interviews, observation, objective tests and projective tests. Interviews can be of two kinds, the structured and the unstructured. In the structured interview the person would be given a set list of questions to answer. These would mostly refer to the way a person sees him/herself behaving in different situations, by choosing the most appropriate statement that would describe him/her most accurately.
In the unstructured interview the person would be asked to talk about himself without any obligation to a specific order and without much direction from the assessor. The observation method is used by the psychologist to learn about a person’s personality, through observing a person’s action and behaviour in different situations. The objective and projective tests are designed to learn aspects of one’s personality. While the objective way uses self-inventories that involve paper and pencil test, the projective way is about deriving information while a person talk about ambiguous stimuli.
I shall go into further detail on these two means of assessment and their validity. While looking into methods of assessment, the two main personality tests appeared in either a structured or in an unstructured form. Structured Personality Tests The first structured personality test (also known as ‘objective’) was introduced by the U. S Army, while recruiting soldiers for World War I. The purpose of this test was to identify emotionally disturbed recruits. The test consisted of a list of questions that dealt with different symptoms or problem (e. g. “do you wet your bed? ”).
If the recruit was reporting many such symptoms, he was sent to further psychiatric examination (Cronbach, 1970). More personality tests were later introduced; the 2 major ones were the MMPI (Hathaway and McKinley, 1940) and the CPI. The MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) assesses traits in comparison to psychiatric diseases, with the intention to make the test multiphasic, meaning diagnostic of a number of different kinds of psychopathology. This test was more concerned in finding abnormal behaviour that would indicate a psychiatric criterion (e. g. paranoia, depression, schizophrenia etc. . The CPI (California Psychological Inventory), unlike the MMPI, focuses on non-clinical behaviour and is more directed to high school and college students. This test investigates various personality traits such as sociability, dominance, responsibility etc. The validity of Structured Personality Tests The main problem with constructed personality tests is that most people taking it are more or less aware of what the questions represent. Instead of giving an honest account of themselves they may try to manipulate their answers to avoid a stigma of a mental disorder or social stereotypes.
Likewise, a person may wish to present him/herself in a bad light, in order to avoid undesirable object (e. g. being drafted). Even when precautions were taken by adding certain validity scales to the test, scales that were meant to make it easier to indicate when a lie was recorded, there was still no guarantee that patients weren’t lying to themselves and projecting their false interpretations when answering such tests. Furthermore, though personality tests can predict behaviour, their accuracy is doubtful. The correlation found between test scores and validity criteria are generally around +0. 0, indicating a low to moderate association (a perfect association between sets of scores produces a correlation of (+/-) 1. 00, whereas scores that are totally unrelated produce a correlation of 0) (Lasky et el. , 1959). Unstructured Personality Test The unstructured personality tests (also known as ‘projective’), introduced in the 1940’s and 1950’s, presented the examinee with unstructured tasks such as making up a story to fit a picture or describing what he/she sees in an inkblot. These tests were formed in such way that the examinee -instead of describing how he/she feels, acts or wishes- requires to do so regarding other stimuli.
One example of such test is the Rorschach test (Rorschach, 1921). In this test, 10 symmetrical inkblots are presented to the individual; some are coloured and some black and white. The individual is required to describe what he/she sees. The method of interpretation regarding this test consist of various hypothesis, such as the one which claims that using the entire inkblot indicate integrative, conceptual thinking, whereas the use of the white space is supposed to be a sign of rebelliousness and negativism.
Responses that are dominated by colour suggest emotionality and impulsivity. Another example is the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) (Murrey, 1948). This consisted of thirty pictures of various scenes and a blank card. In each the examinee is required to imagine his/her own scene; describing what is shown, what led up to it and what the outcome of the scene will be in his/her eyes. This outcome of the TAT was interpreted by considering the examinee’s desired end- product as a picture of his/her major motives and conflicts, achievements and aspirations.
The validity of Unstructured Personality Tests By now there are over 11,000 published articles regarding the Rorschach and the TAT. According to some experts, these tests have a very limited validity (Holt, 1978; Klein, 1982; Rorer, 1990). These studies have shown that individual Rorschach measurements have little relation to external validity criteria. In its ability to predict psychiatric symptoms, TAT assessments proved no better than the Rorschach’s test.
In a study initiated in 1950, TAT was administrated to over 100 males, some in psychiatric facilities and others in college. The TAT results showed no difference between the normal group and patients. It also lacked the ability to show differences within the psychiatric groups (Eron, 1950). Although the TAT was proved to have little value as a diagnostic assessment for psychiatric classification, studies have shown that the test has some validity for more limited purpose, in particularly regarding indications of personal motives.
One group of investigators worked with examinees who had not eaten for various periods of time. When presented with TAT pictures, their stories were highly connected to food and hunger, in comparison to the participants of the control group. Similar findings have been obtained concerning various other motives such as aggression, sexual arousal and the need for achievements (Atkinson and McClelland, 1948). Personality tests, in both their structured and unstructured form, consist of many more formats and use a large quantity of assessment methods.
Although both types of tests consist of certain flaws, and are not always reliable, their contribution to the understanding of personality is significant. The appearance of such tests in the early 40’s has raised the interest of many researchers, psychologists and psychiatrics, and gave way to further studies on the issue of personality and its construct. References: Gleitman, H. (1999) psychology 5th edition, Norton (chapters 16 and 17) Hampson, Sarah E. (1988) The construction of personality: an introduction. 2nd edition, London: Routledge