by May Bleeker-Phelan, 20 Sept 2021
Psychometrics is a sub-division of psychology that focuses on measuring the differences between people's psychological characteristics.
In the process of attempting to understand human nature, philosophers, researchers and psychologists have, over time, defined some common dimensions of human behaviour (a.k.a attributes, traits or characteristics).
For example, commonly accepted today are personality traits such as openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness, stress tolerance/resilience and sociability (amongst others). Or various types of problem-solving and other abilities.
While we all have these attributes in common, the particular ways in which they are expressed, and to what degree and so on, are unique to each individual.
Across the years various psychometric tests have been devised to measure those dimensions of human functioning and particularly, the differences between individuals.
Results from these tests, when put together, can show your unique configuration of psychological attributes - a kind of 'psychological signature'.
Depending on what is measured, a psychometric assessment can highlight various aspects of your thinking, coping, interpersonal and problem-solving styles as well as various talents, potentials and abilities.
Because we are not static creatures, some psychological attributes may change or be influenced by events over time. Evidence shows that some characteristics are more fixed than others.
Your introversion/extraversion preference, for example, is thought to be fairly strongly anchored and may remain relatively stable across a life-time. With time, your comfort with socialising could change, and your social skill level can grow. But if you start out strongly introverted, you are likely to remain inclined towards introversion, regardless of how skilfully you end up conducting yourself within a social situation.
Knowing what introversion/extraversion is, and what the implications are if you find yourself strongly inclined towards one or another, is exactly the type of information that psychometric assessment can provide.
Many other attributes are more mutable and influenced by learning, exposure to new experiences, or deep, lasting changes in perspective.
As a result, a psychometric assessment can only ever be thought of as a ‘snapshot in time’. A particular set of assessment questionnaires or methods provide a view into a person’s particular psychological attributes and how these compare to a norm group. (A norm group is a group representative of that person in certain definable ways. Norm groups play an important role in how psychometric assessments are scored and interpreted).
For the above reason, assessment results are always interpreted within a given time-frame. We always operate with the knowledge that some aspects of a person’s functioning may change over time.
Understanding your psychological 'signature' gives you insight into why you prefer the things you do. It helps you understand what 'makes you tick'. With this self-knowledge, provided you know how to apply it, you are more able to keep yourself in tune with your natural leanings (and therefore, happy, productive and content). This is invaluable when you have questions about a particular job, life stage, partnership or educational setting.
From an employer's perspective, understanding a person's psychological 'signature' allows insight into how that person will function in a given set of conditions. How they will get along within the team and company culture, for example. Or how they will face up to particular types of challenges at work, and how to bring out the best in them.
Typically psychometric assessments measure some combination of the following:
In some cases more extensive and specialist abilities are measured (e.g. spatial awareness, eye-hand coordination/visual-motor capabilities, action-reaction times etc). These are usually related to specific fields of endeavour or enquiry
Each person’s unique combination or ‘signature’ of characteristics becomes apparent when an interpretation is made across a set of assessment data.
The more (valid & reliable) sources of information included, the more ‘lenses’ you have to look through and the more comprehensive (and potentially accurate) the picture will be.
Also, the more skilled the interpreter, the more value can be extracted from such data.
Did You Know?
The earliest use of a structured rating scale for studying human character in the west was published by Heymans and Wiersma in 1906. The Chinese used tests to evaluate the personal characteristics of government personnel as early as 2200 BC.
Psychometric assessments are mainly used in:
Once you have a snapshot of a person’s particular psychological makeup you can anticipate:
- What type of environments that person will thrive in (or not)
- What would typically stress that person out
- What they would be good at, or not so good at
- What kind of work they would enjoy most
- What they need in their lives to be content
- What might be causing the discontent they currently feel
- How they will work with people
- How they will manage themselves
- What kind of issues they might typically face at work or at home
- The best way for them to approach certain types of tasks
- What their prospects (and challenges) would be if they took up a particular career
Not all psychometric measures will be able to tell you all these things. Each questionnaire or instrument is a 'window' into a particular area of functioning. Some of the skill involved in conducting assessments lies in the knowledge of what tests will give you useful information in the areas you seek, how to use them correctly, and how to combine their results with other tools for a more in-depth, reliable picture.
No measurement tool is perfect or can deliver perfect knowledge. Understanding and knowing how to evaluate the limitations of psychometric tools is as important as knowing how to correctly interpret results. Hence the requirement for practitioners who use psychometric tools to be well-trained and informed.
Given the sensitivity of the information dealt with, there are also strict rules of conduct concerning confidentiality and management of assessment information. For this reason professionals who conduct psychometric assessments are usually registered with a formal body that guides and oversees their practice and continued professional development.
For more information or to book an assessment contact me.