Psychometric assessment of personality cover a variety of areas of human activity and ability. A significant aspect to what makes us ‘human’ is our personalities, so this inevitably forms a large part of the analysis of data that derives from psychometric assessments.

Humans are inherently complex beings. The human brain is one of the most complex structures in nature, and to put this in context, recent research by the University of Bologna has highlighted the similarities of the brain and its neuronal structures to the cosmic network of galaxies throughout the universe. With such a vast network of interconnected neuronal systems, akin to around 70 billion in total, the physical considerations (technically called the morphological aspects) of the human brain make for a staggering array of possibilities.

The psychometric assessment of personality therefore takes on a complex task as it attempts to categorize and understand a potentially infinite variety of outcomes, at least as the analysis of neuronal structure is concerned. Fortunately, one of the great abilities of humans is to synthesize ideas and theories, so reduce large quantities of data to a rationalized set of reliable and verifiable results. Though it has taken a long time, and is ongoing, the study of personality has made significant advances, especially during the last century.

The psychometric assessment of personality

is inevitably grounded in scientific method, that is, whereby a hypothesis is proposed, attempted to be disputed, and the outcome related, either confirming the hypothesis as correct, which becomes a thesis, then, under appropriately rigorous analysis, a theory; the other possibility being that the hypothesis is refuted, then another one proposed which amends, or completely changes the original hypothesis.

The above also implies a continuous cycle of hypothesis to thesis or refutation, but this cycle is more complex, each thesis that emerges often being refuted or amended later by another, often called the antithesis, and the amalgamation of the two groups sometimes merging as a synthesis. A noted example of this is the thesis that became The Theory of Relativity, which emerged to dispute the Newtonian theories that governed how we view planets and the universe. Both theories remain invaluable contributions to knowledge, and assimilate vast concepts into discrete, yet complex works.

Furthermore, how well a psychometric assessment of personality is gauged calls for other aspects to scientific method, namely, tests for Reliability and Validity. These are extremely important aspects to any assessment, but, perhaps, within the realm of the psychometric assessment of personality, even more so.

Reliability, in this context

is about the psychometric assessment of personality measuring what it sets out to assess, and that this is as accurate as possible. The validity of a psychometric assessment of personality means that the assessment is suitable for the purpose for which it is intended. Both reliability and validity are beholden on the administration of the psychometric assessment of personality being consistent, thereby following standardized procedures. For this, it is extremely important to have qualified and experienced assessors conduct the psychometric assessment, or, to at least have the psychometric assessment of personality well presented, with clear guidelines and instructions that can be followed consistently.  

Before we look at some of the theories that have formed the basis for the psychometric assessment of personality, there are a few questions which beg for resolution, for example: does personality change during a lifetime? If personality does change, then by how much?

Overall

personalities are relatively consistent over the long-term, though experience and situations that are encountered call for different aspects to personality to be prominent. This is part of the discussion about validity: does a psychological assessment of personality fit within the targeted area of experience and within each designated situation? They cannot be considered in isolation, as will become apparent further on in this article. We all project ‘a persona’ within set situations, be those situations ones involving high pressure work, or within, for example, a diplomatically delicate situation, or in a situation where a formal relationship must be maintained, so, to give a further example, within a hospital, where there may be a doctor who must consult with a colleague, then relay that consultation to a patient. Each interaction calls for a varied approach and response, so different aspects to personality are likely to emerge. These aspects include the following: temperament, motivation, transient mood states and ability.

Temperament is the habitual style of acting

Thinking and feeling that a person displays. It is aligned with, and of course, inseparable from, life experience. Research has shown that babies have temperament, so there is variety in temperament at an early age, though life experience, and cultural norms can modify temperament over time. An example may be the expectation of collective involvement and the consideration of others in a community, or the diverse expectation of individualism and self-reliance. Over time, these can affect temperament and merge to elicit someone’s personality.

Motivation is collocated with values. Each person has values that are held in high esteem, so they affect the degree of motivation that a person exhibits. The motivation most affected by firmly held values is primarily an intrinsic motivation, ‘it comes from within’. Motivation sparked by something exterior to the self, however, also appeals to the person as extrinsic motivation. A goal for achieving something which carries a reward that will enable the person attaining that goal to take on something else that is desired, is clearly an extrinsic motivator. How readily a person responds to that goal is also, in-part, about their personality.

Transient mood states

Transient mood states are how people vary in the short-term due to events they encounter, these affecting them internally and externally. These short-term events elicit varied expressions of the person’s mood. How a person is feeling at the time of taking a psychometric assessment of personality can therefore influence the outcome to a marginal extent. An experienced psychometrician can relate to these transient moods and interpret the results of the assessment accordingly.

Ability links with the person’s inherent capacity for taking on tasks and being both conscientious in seeing them through, plus curious about finding out about new things, or about how new ways of doing things can be done.

The four aspects just outlined are also important for the person taking the psychometric assessment of personality to relate to, especially during the post-assessment feedback that often accompanies the personality assessment. “How you were on the day” is a consideration when giving feedback, be it a more positive, upbeat mood at that time, or the opposite. In psychometric terms, there is no right or wrong in that, just a further explanation of the moment.

The origins of the psychometric assessment of personality go back, in philosophical terms, to Ancient Greece and the considerations of, for example, the four humors that Greeks believed made up the mind and body. How these four humors constituted the physical make-up of the person was considered important in revealing their personal traits.

Chinese civilization

The ancient Chinese civilization also had tests that had to be endured, the word ‘endured’ being apt as they were arduous to the extent that, on average, only a recorded 7 percent passed them. The tests weeded out those not capable, in the eyes of Chinese authorities, for serving in the military. This evolved into a test handed out during the last two years of The Great War, called the Woodworth Personality Data Sheet. It was self-administered and aimed at assessing the chances that a person would develop ‘shell shock’, and other symptoms associated with extreme physical and psychological stress.

The use of the word ‘psychological’

also brings the story of the psychometric assessment of personality into the 20th Century. The founding father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, paved the way for this viewpoint of personality assessment, along with contributions from Carl Gustav Jung, Alfred Adler, and Erik Erikson, to name but a few. The subsequent work within the Behaviorist School, then Social Learning perspectives and the Humanistic approaches (for example, by Maslow and Rogers) led to the early attempts at what may be recognized now as the psychometric assessment of personality.  What has really brought the psychometric assessment of personality to the fore is the work on traits and personality types, the much-disputed Myers-Briggs Personality Test being an early example of an attempt to place personality assessment results as distinct ‘types’, of which, in this case, there are sixteen.

These days, the psychometric assessment of personality is growing in sophistication, with benchmarked norm groups being collated from around the world that have large amounts of data related to the traits and types identified. To reiterate, types give generic descriptors to personalities, so that grouping of those types can be done; traits are aspects of personality revealed by extensive analysis, so with greater detail that with ‘types’, and a common basis for gaining that data is via the psycho-lexical approach. Fundamentally, if there is an expression of a personality trait, it will come, inevitably, from the words used which constitute that trait. This approach was favored by Gordon Allport and Raymond Cattell, then furthered by the work of Hans Eysenck and others, the traits being developed into psychometric factors, so they became traits and types that are consistently measurable.

The Big Five Factor Analysis

An important example of what has emerged over the last thirty years is the Big Five Factor Analysis, which is the predominant approach to the psychometric assessment of personality, underpinning many of the assessment tools that are currently available. The Five Factors are Conscientiousness, Emotionality (sometimes called Neuroticism), Extraversion (and its contrary Introversion), Agreeableness and Openness to Experience, the most influential work that produced these five factors being an amalgamation of two lines of work, one by Allport and Cattell, and the other line by Costa and McCrae (1992), which specifically produced The Big Five Factor Model. The five factors are clearly defined and continue to this day to be the bedrock of the psychometric assessment of personality.

The NEO P-I-R

The NEO P-I-R, for example, is a premium psychometric assessment of personality which gives results based on The Big Five, with six facets assigned to those Big Five. For example, Neuroticism is broken down into anxiety, hostility, depression, self-consciousness, and vulnerability to stress; Extraversion is expressed via warmth, gregariousness, assertiveness, activity, positive emotion, and excitement seeking.

Another influential approach, which has evolved into psychometric assessments of personality, is the DISC system, D.I.S.C. standing for Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance. It was first proposed by William Moulton Marston in 1928. These four aspects to personality have, by some people, been likened, in origin, to the four humors mentioned near the beginning of this article – the titles given at the time of Empodocles (444 BC) evolving as Sanguine, Phlegmatic, Bilious (or Choleric) and Melancholic. In 1940, William Clark produced the first personality assessment based on Marston’s work, and many modern psychometric assessments of personality have evolved from there, for example, the Personal Profile Assessment (PPA).

The Four Aspects

How the four aspects of Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Compliance are balanced, or contrasted, and how they vary according to different situations, whereby people put on, figuratively, ‘a mask’ so they can cope with those situations, is outlined in the PPA. The three situations (which, to recall some previous comments in this article, are important to consider for a psychometric assessment of personality to have credibility and to give useful results) are termed the Self Image, the Work Mask and finally the Behavior Under Pressure mask. How the four factors vary in these situations can be interpreted by a trained assessor. They combine to give a useful report on the participant’s personality and, for example, how best to manage them, or how well they will perform in positions of authority and leadership.

Fundamentally, what the varied approaches teach us is that psychometric assessments of personality are best taken regularly, with a plethora of approaches giving immensely useful data from which information can be related, and progress for each participant planned. As such, psychometric assessments of personality can be enjoyed and give each person who takes one useful self-knowledge and, just maybe, a significant edge in the evermore competitive world that we live in.