Psychometrics: Can tests measure personalities?

29th May 2018 (7pm)

As recently as just over a century ago, phrenology was a popular assessment of a person’s intellectual aptitudes and character traits could be determined by the size, shape, and unevenness of the skull. The science behind this was proven faulty and, since the early 20th century, psychologists have developed questionnaires to measure and prescribe aptitude and personality traits (referred to as psychometrics).

Whilst researchers can use these non-invasive tools to measure or categorise study participants, many companies and organisations are constantly looking for quantified ways to build teams, promote self improvement, and optimise performance in the workplace, and individuals themselves are fascinated at the prospects of getting psychology based insights into how to live their life, partner, or ideal career.

One of the most popular tests in the business sector is the Myers-Briggs Trait Indicator (MBTI) which categorises people into one of sixteen trait combinations. Despite its popularity and wide use, many psychologists have criticised tests such as the MBTI for their choice of dimensions and sometimes subpar test-retestability (the ability to get similar or similarly accurate results when you repeat the test).

This is a flaw that plagues many tests and can make them dangerous or irresponsible for applications, be it for academic research or job recruitment. This is why anyone administering these tests has a responsibility to put them into the appropriate context and why we need to be critical of the science behind these tests.

So for this discussion, together with our guest anchors, we will examine what goes into creating and validating psychometric tests, discuss how these tests can rightly applied, and what we need to be skeptical about when using their results in larger applications.