Personality test

Personality test

A personality test aims to describe aspects of a person's character that remain stable throughout that person's lifetime, the individual's character pattern of behavior, thoughts, and feelings. An early model of personality was posited by Greek philosopher/physician Hippocrates. The 20th century heralded a new interest in defining and identifying separate personality types, in close correlation with the emergence of the field of psychology. As such, several distinct tests emerged; some attempt to identify specific characteristics, while others attempt to identify personality as a whole.


There are many different types of personality tests. Common personality tests consist of a large number of items, where respondents must rate the applicability of each item to themselves. Projective tests, such as the TAT and Ink Blots are another form of personality test which attempt to assess personality indirectly.


Personality tests can be scored using a dimensional (normative) or a typological (ipsative) approach. Dimensional approaches such as the Big 5 describe personality as a set of continuous dimensions on which individuals differ. Typological approaches such as the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator (r) describe opposing categories of functioning where individuals differ. Normative responses for each category can be graphed as bell curves (normal curves), implying that some aspects of personality are better than others. Ipsative test responses offer two equally "good" responses between which an individual must choose. Such responses (e.g., on the MBTI) would result in bi-modal graphs for each category, rather than bell curves.

Many, but by no means all, psychological researchers believe that the dimensional approach is more accurate, although as judged by the popularity of the Myer-Briggs tool, typological approaches have substantial appeal as a self-development tool.

Few personality tests accurately predict behavior in a specific context. For example, with some of the five factor model tests, only one of the five factors are significantly correlated with job performance (needs reference).

While most personality tests are designed to be self-report, some tests can be completed by significant others.


The meaning of personality test scores are difficult to interpret in a direct sense. For this reason substantial effort is made by producers of personality tests to produce norms to provide a comparative basis for interpreting a respondent's test scores. Common formats for these norms include percentile ranks, z scores, sten scores, and other forms of standardised scores.

Test development

A substantial amount of research and thinking has gone into the topic of personality test development. Development of personality tests tends to be an iterative process whereby a test is progressively refined. Test development can proceed on theoretical or statistical grounds. Theoretical strategies can involve taking psychological or other theory to define the content domain and then developing test items that should in principle measure the domain of interest. This can then be accompanied by assessment by experts of the developed items to the defined construct. Statistical strategies are varied. Common strategies involve the use of exploratory factor analysis and confirmatory factor analysis to verify that items that are proposed to group together into factors actually do group together empirically. Reliability analysis, and Item Response Theory are additional complimentary approaches.

Test evaluation

There are several criteria for evaluating a personality test. Fundamentally a personality test is expected to show reliability and validity.

Criticism and controversy

Biased test taker interpretation

One problem of a personality test is that the users of the test could only find it accurate because of the subjective validation involved. This is where the person only acknowledges the information that applies to them. This is related to what is called in psychology as the Forer effect

Application to non-clinical samples

Critics have raised issues about the ethics of administering personality tests, especially for non-clinical uses. By the 1960s, tests like the MMPI were being given by companies to employees and applicants as often as to psychiatric patients. Sociologist William H. Whyte was among those who saw the tests as helping to create and perpetuate the oppressive groupthink of the "organization man" mid-20th century corporate capitalistic mentality.

Personality versus social factors

In the 60s and 70s some psychologists dismissed the whole idea of personality, considering much behaviour to be content specific. This idea was supported by the fact that personality often does not predict behaviour in specific contexts. However, more extensive research has showed than when behaviour is aggregated across contexts, that personality can be a modest to good predictor of behaviour. Almost all psychologists now acknowledge that both social and individual difference factors (i.e., personality) influence behaviour. The debate is currently more around the relative importance of each of these factors and how these factors interact.

Respondent faking

One problem with self-report measures of personality is that respondents are often able to distort their responses. This is particularly problematic in employment contexts and other contexts where important decisions are being made and there is an incentive to present oneself in a favourable manner. Work in experimental settings (e.g., Viswesvaran & Ones, 1999; Martin, Bowen & Hunt, 2002) has clearly shown that when student samples have been asked to deliberately fake on a personality test, they clearly demonstrated that they are capable of doing so.

Several strategies have been adopted for reducing respondent faking. One strategy involves providing a warning on the test that methods exist for detecting faking and that detection will result in negative consequences for the respondent (e.g., not being considered for the job). Forced choice item formats (ipsative testing) have been adopted which require respondents to choose between alternatives of equal social desirability. Social desirability and lie scales are often included which detect certain patterns of responses, although these are often confounded by true variability in social desirability. More recently, Item Response Theory approaches have been adopted with some success in identifying item response profiles that flag fakers. Other researchers are looking at the timing of responses on electronically administered tests to assess faking.

Applications of personality testing

Psychological Research

Personality testing is frequently used in psychological research to test various theories of personality.

Research published by David Dunning of Cornell University, Chip Heath of Stanford University and Jerry M. Suls of the University of Iowa reveals that observers who are not involved in any type of relationship with an individual are better judges of the individual's relationships and abilities. These workers have studied a large body of investigations into self-evaluation, indicating that individuals may have flawed views about themselves and their social relationships, sometimes leading to decisions that can impact negatively on other persons' lives and/or their own.

Investment & wealth creation

Psychological factors can also have an influence on the stock market. A person's perception of fundamental and technical factors can be influenced by many things including money. Some investors' perceptions are frequently adjusted by economic news, earnings reports, economic data, and political events. This perception of the details of the stock market depends a great deal on the psychological profiles of investors, in particular their temperaments and their willingness to incur risk. Psychological testing could assist in the accumulation of a collective personal profiles of investors.

The how-to-get-rich strategies of Donald Trump include comments on the importance of personality in making business deals. He discusses how the knowledge of the personalities of people involved in his deals has contributed to his success. Despite dismissing the relevance of psychological factors in earlier life, he now regards Carl Jung's work as "important to financial success." He has stated that Jung had been a "help in my business as well as in my personal life ...reading Jung will give you insights into yourself and the ways in which you and other people operate."

Additional applications

A study by American Management Association reveals that 39 percent of companies surveyed use personality testing as part of their hiring process. However, ipsative personality tests are often used misused in recruitment and selection, where they are mistakenly treated as if they are normative measures. More people are using personality testing to evaluate their business partners, their dates and their spouses. Salespeople are using personality testing to better understand the needs of their customers and to gain a competitive edge in the closing of deals. College students have started to use personality testing to evaluate their roommates. Lawyers are beginning to use personality testing for criminal behavior analysis, litigation profiling, witness examination and jury selection.

Examples of personality tests


See also

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