Personality Assessment

Personality is tested or measured in many situations. Industry and the military services, for example, often select persons on the basis of personality test results. Someone who seeks psychotherapy may be given personality tests to identify his problems. Personality assessment techniques are also used in mental hospitals and clinics to aid in diagnosis and to measure improvement after treatment.

As you read the text, try to answer the following questions.


Just as there are many definitions of personality, there are also many different ways of assessing or measuring personality. The assessment procedure used depends upon the purpose of the assessment.

A general division exists between objective and subjective assessment. An assessment procedure is objective if it produces results that fall into welldefined categories or score values. Little or no interpretation is required when an objective procedure is used. A subjective procedure requires the assessor to make a judgment. The assessment procedures we shall discuss are interviews, rating scales, inventories, projective techniques, and situational or behavioral methods.


An interviewer must be both objective and skilled

The most commonly used method of personality assessment is the interview. If we want to know something about someone, we ask him. Interviews are subjective assessments but their degree of subjectivity can vary a great deal. In a standardized situation the interviewer asks questions that are prepared in advance. This is less subjective than a "non-directive" interview in which the subject says what he pleases and the interviewer comments on what the subject says. But even in two standardized situations with identical questions a subject may give different replies to two interviewers. He may regard one as friendly because of his tone of voice and the other as hostile because of the way he looks. Therefore, personality assessments based on interviews are not very reliable.

Interviews can sometimes obtain reliable data of a statistical nature. Interviews may also be used to probe the deepest areas of an individual's personality, but in this case the training, skill, and sophistication of the interviewer must be of the highest order. Even then, problems of reliability may arise.


Rating scales are particularly sensitive to a reviewer's overall impression

A rating scale is a quantitative technique for making a judgment about some aspect of personality. For example, a nursery-school teacher may be asked to check along the following line to rate each child for cooperativeness.


Very Uncooperative Usually Uncoooperative Sometimes Cooperative Usually Cooperative Very Cooperative

In spite of their simplicity, there are a number of disadvantages to such scales. Most people have a tendency to rate a person consistently high because of a favorable general impression or consistently low because of a poor one. This "halo effect" is difficult to avoid. But, since they are easy to use and provide rough data readily, rating scales continue to play an important part in personality assessment.



The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), the most widely used of all personality inventories, was developed by S. R. Hathaway and J. C. McKinley. It was devised to provide scores on a large number of aspects of personality both within and beyond the normal range. The MMPI consists of 556 statements to which a subject responds true if the statement applies to him and false if it does not. The test can reveal disturbances in such areas as hypochondriasis, depression, hysteria, paranoia, and schizophrenia. In addition, there is a scale that indicates the carefulness with which the subject took the test. Another scale indicates whether the subject attempted to distort the result by answering falsely.

Some examples of items on the MMPI are ``It is safer to trust nobody"; "I wish I were not bothered by thoughts about sex"; "I do not always tell the truth"; and "I am not afraid of mice." Figure 1 shows additional typical items from this test. The answer in parentheses would support the diagnosis given above each item.

Figure 1. Typical items from the MMPI with scales indicated

Hypochondriasis Hs
I am bothered by acid stomach several times a week. (True)
Depression (D) scale
I am easily awakened by noise. true)
Hysteria (Hy) scale
I like to read newspaper articles on crime. (False)
Psychopathic deviate (Pd) scale
I am neither gaining nor losing weight. (False)
Masculinity-feminity (Mfl scale
When I take a new job, I like to be tipped off on who should be gotten next to. (False)
Paranoia (Pa) scale
I have never been in trouble with the law. (False)
Psychasthenia (Pt) scale
I am inclined to take things hard. (True)
Schizophrenia (Sc) scale
I get all the sympathy I should. (False)
Hypomania (Ma) scale
I never worry about my looks. (True)
Social introversion (Si) scale
People generally demand more respect for their own rights than they are willing to allow for others. (True)

(From Dahlstrom and Welsh, 1960)

Personality inventories provide comparative data

The principal difference between a rating scale and a personality inventory is in the scoring. The scoring of the rating scale is based on the personal opinion of the rater. The scoring of the MMPI depends on extensive empirical research. If a teacher rates one child as very cooperative and another as uncooperative, her meaning is clear. But one cannot judge the meaning of a positive response to an item in an inventory until one determines what class of individuals respond positively to that item. A diagnosis is based on many items, and on patterns of responses, not on just one item.


Projective techniques were developed to delve deeply into a subject's personality. In a projective test the subject is presented with an ambiguous stimulus. He is asked to tell what he sees in the stimulus, and he "projects" his personality info his answers. The psychologist then makes a subjective appraisal of the subject's responses. To an item in an inventory a subject may respond only yes, no, or cannot say The ways of responding to a projective item are virtually unlimited.

The Rorschach test, named after the Swiss psychiatrist who designed it, is probably the best known of the projective techniques. It consists of a series of 10 cards, each of which contains an inkblot. Some are in black and white; others are in color. The instructions to the subject are brief. He is given a card and asked to report what he sees. Figure 2 shows an example of the type of figure used.

Figure 2. An example of the type of inkblot figure used in the Rorschach Test.

Blots similar to this one are shown to a subject with the instruction to indicate what he sees in them. After all the subject's responses are recorded, the examiner asks questions about them in an attempt to discover what it was about each card that determined the responses.

Click on here for example of a Rorschach Picture

Projective tests elicit responses that have been found typical of certain personalities

Scoring of projective tests is based on norms. A subject's response to a card as a "bat" will be interpreted differently depending on whether that response is made most often by hospitalized schizophrenics or whether it is a typical response for college students.

Another widely used projective technique is the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) developed by Morgan and Murray (1935). This test consists of a series of pictures. The subject is asked to make up a story about each one. The test is based on the assumption that the themes of a subject's stories reflect his own needs, fantasies, and aspirations. A sample drawing is shown in Figure 3.

Click on here for image of

TAT Test item

Figure 3. An item similar to those used on the Thematic Apperception Test (TA T). The subject is shown a drawing and is instructed to tell a story about what it depicts. (After Murray 1943)



The most direct way to predict an individual's behavior in a natural situation is to place him in a test situation that closely resembles a natural one. The investigator then observes his behavior and assumes he will behave similarly in the natural situation. Stress interviews are examples of this technique. The interviewer deliberately tries to induce anxiety in the subject to determine how he behaves under stress.


Situational methods place the subject in a "model " of the real life situation

The United States Office of Strategic Services in World War II (1943) used a situational technique to assess candidates. The stress interview is an example of their technique. Each candidate was given the following instructions.

The examination you are to undergo is designed to test your resourcefulness, agility of mind, and ability to think quickly, effectively, and convincingly. This is an important test and it is important that you do well. In twelve (12) minutes report to the basement room at the foot of the stairs.

The test will measure your ability to establish and maintain a cover story for the situation outlined below. Your cover story must be told convincingly, intelligently, and clearly. The examiners will try to trip you up on your story, to lead you into inconsistencies, and in general to confuse you. Several students in the past have failed in this test because they forgot or did not understand the directions and requirements We are listing below the important "rules"of this examination. If you do not remember these rules, you will fail

1. Your cover story must give a plausible and innocent reason for your actions.

2. You must answer every question asked. Answers like, "I don't remember," "I don't know," "I am not permitted to disclose that information, " etc., are not permissible and will count against you in the f nal rating.

3. You must avoid breaking either personal or organizational security in your answers. None of your replies should disclose your former occupation, place of residence, etc.

Here is the situation for which you are to construct a cover story:

A night watchman at 9:00 P.M. found you going through some papers in a file marked "SECRET" in a government of ff ce in Washington. You are NOT an employee of the agency occupying the building in which this office is located. You had no identification papers whatsoever with you. The night watchman has brought you here for questioning.

In developing your cover story you may assume that you are clothed in any manner you wish

After reading the instructions the candidate was taken to a room where he was seated facing a spotlight. Staff members then began his interrogation. The candidate was grilled in a gruff, aggressive manner by some staff members, while others asked questions in a quiet, conciliatory way. After 10 minutes the candidate was told he had failed the test, and his reaction to this was noted carefully. After he left the room the staff members rated him for emotional stability and security, which were judged by his degree of poise and control. Then the candidate was further tested in a post-stress interview. He walked into another room where another staff member did everything possible to make him feel comfortable and relaxed. This staff member then asked, "Well, how have things been going?" About half the candidates broke their cover during the post-stress interview, since they thought it was not part of the test. How they behaved when they were told that the interview also was part of the procedure contributed more information about their personality. Subjects apparently behave differently when they know the situation is contrived

What can be said about the validity of these procedures? They certainly seem to be valid. That is, it looks like these tests measure what they are supposed to measure. The Office of Strategic Services could not validate its methods during wartime. Attempts by many others to validate such techniques have shown that people act differently in the real situations than in the test situations. In general, it seems that situational methods, despite their attractiveness, do not contribute as much to personality assessment as originally hoped.



Now test yourself without looking back.

1. The MMPI is a(n):
a. projective technique.
b. subjective personality test.
c. interview technique.
d. personality inventory.

2. A type of personality test that tries to measure is a(n) a person's reactions in circumstances resembling real life_____________________________

3. A personality test in which the subject is given a relatively ambiguous stimulus and is asked to describe it would be:
a. a personality inventory.
b. . a projective test.
c. an interview.
d. a situational test.

4. People often give others consistently high or low ratings when using rating scales. This consistency is called the ____________________________________________________.

5. A psychologist talks with someone in order to understand his personality. This form of assessment is a(n):
a. rating scale.
b. interview.
c. projective technique.
d. situational method.





The interview method of personality assessment requires the assessor to interpret the subject's responses to understand his personal ity. The interview, then, is a(n)____________________________ (subjective/objective) method.


The rating scale is used in personality assessment to give values to amounts of a characteristic or trait in an individual's personality. The rating scale is a(n) (subjective/objective) method._____________________________________5


1 ) Objective_______

2) Subjective__________

a. The assessor does not have to interpret the results.

b. The assessor interprets the results. An interview

c. An interview

d. A rating scale

____________________________ 4

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory is an inventory assessment technique that has been empirically validated. The administrator of an MMPI:

a. interviews the subject to get an impression of his personality.

b. scores the test according to scales supplied with the test.

c. has the subject make up stories about the ambiguous pictures.

d. instructs the subject to participate in a situation resembling a stressful event in real life.

____________________________________ 6

Projective personality tests are those in which the subject receives an ambiguous stimulus and responds in some characteristic way. The subject projects his personality into the response. Which of the following is an example of a projective test?

a. The subject is shown a picture in the Thematic Apperception Test. He is asked to make up a story about it.

b. The subject is shown an inkblot in the Rorschach test. He tells what he sees.

c. The subject marks, like, dislike, or cannot say on an MMPI.

d. The subject is placed in a highly structured "real-life" situation and is observed.


A disadvantage in the use of rating scales for personality assessment is called the "halo" effect. Raters tend to rate an individual consistently high or low. Which of the following illustrates the halo effect?

a. A professor gives each student a pass or fail rating in Introductory Psychology. The data show that students using individualized instructional materials pass more I frequently.

b. A nursery-school teacher rates each child's reading readiness on a scale from 1 (not ready) to 5 (already reading). The data show that the children fall below national norms.

c. An elementary-school teacher rates each sixth grader on intelligence, responsibility, initiative and cooperation. The data show that these qualities tend to cluster in the same individuals.


In a stress technique, the subject is placed in a simulated real-life environment and his behavior is observed. This is a(n):
a. situational method.
b. projective method.
c. interview method.


1 ratio
2 a
3 a, b
4 1) a, d
2) b,c

5 objective
6 b
7 c
8 subjective



1. Match.

1 ) Objective_______
2) Subjective_______ a. MMPI
b. Interview
c. Rating scale

2. The Rorschach inkblot test is a(n):
a. projective technique.
b. interview technique.
c. situational test.
d. personality inventory.

3. The tendency to rate people consistently high or low on several rating scales is called the________________________

4. The personality test in which the subject is scored on his answers to a large number of specific questions is a(n)
a. projective technique.
b. subjective personality test.
c. interview technique.
d. personality inventory.

5. A subject is placed in a simulated real-life setting and observed. This evaluation method is called _____________________________________




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