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Persoanlity Assessment Techniques for AP Psychology

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 4, 2011

Review questions for this study guide can be found at:

Personality Review Questions for AP Psychology

Psychologists use a wide variety of techniques to measure personality, including interviews, direct observation and behavioral assessment, projective tests, and personality inventories. Psychologists, human resources specialists, and others use two types of interviews that both involve obtaining information about personal history, personality traits, and current psychological state. Unstructured interviews involve informal conversation centered on the individual, whereas structured interviews involve the interviewer posing a series of planned questions that the interviewee answers. The person being interviewed not only provides verbal answers, but also nonverbal information with his/her facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, and posture. Diagnostic interviews, college interviews, and employment interviews are often structured, but can be unstructured. While interviews can supply essential information about personality, they have limitations resulting from the interviewer's preconceptions, attempts at deception by the interviewee, and the halo effect. The halo effect is the tendency to generalize a favorable impression to unrelated dimensions of the subject's personality.

Direct Observation

Have you ever watched the behavior of people as you waited in line or sat in a public place? If so, you were engaging in a process similar to the assessment known as direct observation. Psychologists sometimes look at the behavior of an individual as he/she interacts with others, carries on normal functions, or performs specific tasks in order to identify personality traits or problems. Behaviorists prefer observational techniques. They may use rating scales that list personality traits or behaviors to be evaluated. Behavioral assessments record the frequency of specific behaviors in an observation. Though they criticize the subjective nature of other types of assessment, behaviorists also have to make inferences about what they see in another person's behavior. Lab studies have careful controls, but a potential flaw with naturalistic observational studies is the Hawthorn effect. When people know that they are being observed, they change their behavior to what they think the observer expects or to make themselves look good.

Projective Tests

Psychoanalysts use projective personality tests that present ambiguous stimuli, such as inkblots or pictures, with the assumption that test takers will project their unconscious thoughts or feelings onto the stimuli. The objective is to uncover deeply hidden unconscious thoughts, feelings, wishes, and needs. The famous Rorschach inkblot test presents 10 bilaterally symmetrical inkblots, asking the person to tell what he/she sees in each one and to indicate the features of the inkblot that prompted the response. The evaluator scores each response based on a rubric, inputs the data into a scoring system, then uses clinical judgment to prepare a profile of the person's motives and conflicts. Another projective test, the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) created by Henry Murray and Christiana Morgan, consists of a set of 20 cards (one blank) with people in ambiguous situations. People are shown a number of cards in sequence. Murray thought that people would reveal their need for achievement, sex, power, or affiliation in their answers to requests to tell what is happening in the picture, what led up to it, how the people feel, and how the situation turns out. For example, people who tell stories in which people work hard to accomplish their goals or overcome obstacles indicate a high need for achievement. Because they are unstructured, projective tests often get people to talk about anxiety-provoking situations that they otherwise wouldn't reveal, exposing unconscious conflicts. Although psychoanalysts have delineated ways to interpret the subjective responses on projective tests, other psychologists question the validity and reliability of these assessments.

Self-Reported Tests

Self-report methods, the most common personality assessment techniques, involve the person answering a series of questions, such as a personality questionnaire, or supplying information about himself/herself. Different psychologists and different approaches make use of different self-report methods. Jung's personality types are measured by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator; Cattell's personality traits are measured by the 16 PF; Rotter's locus of control is measured by the Internal-External Locus of Control Scale; Maslow's self-actualization is measured by the Personal Orientation Inventory; Rogers's congruence between the actual self and ideal self is measured by the Q-sort. The validity of all of these is questioned. Among the best-known, most researched, and most widely used self-report personality tests is the MMPI-2 (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2), composed of 567 true-false items. The items were originally chosen from among hundreds given to groups of people diagnosed with psychological disorders as well as "normal" people. Items that differentiated between the patient group and the normal group were included in the test; items that didn't were eliminated. Each item needed to correlate highly with some trait or dimension of personality. The test has 10 clinical scales such as schizophrenia and depression; 15 content scales such as anger and family problems, and validity scales to detect whether or not a person is lying. The tests are scored objectively, usually by computer, and charted as an MMPI-2 profile. Patterns of responses reveal personality dimensions. By comparing someone's profile to the profile of the normal group, psychologists identify abnormalities. Employers sometimes compare the profile of a job applicant to the profile of successful employees in making employment decisions. As well researched and carefully constructed as the MMPI-2 is, its validity is not guaranteed, and some psychologists think peer reports yield more valid information. Two assessments designed to assess personality based on the five-factor model in healthy people have been gaining in popularity: the NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI) and the Big Five Questionnaire (BFQ), which is being used in cross-cultural research.

Self-Concept and Self-Esteem

Our self-concept is our overall view of our abilities, behavior, and personality or what we know about ourselves. Self-esteem is one part of our self-concept, or how we evaluate ourselves. Our self-esteem is affected by our emotions and comes to mean how worthy we think we are. The self-concept is immature in youth but broadens and becomes more complex and individualized as we get older. For example, we understand that we can be attractive physically, but that we have strengths and weaknesses in many diverse areas beyond physical and mental abilities. Parents and educators can help children increase their self-worth and raise their self-esteem by highlighting the youngsters' strengths. Low self-esteem can lead to depression when a person thinks he/she is unable to realize his/her hopes, whereas it can lead to anxiety when a person thinks he/she is unable to do what he/she should.

Review questions for this study guide can be found at:

Personality Review Questions for AP Psychology

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