Personality Assessment

Personality assessment is a multifaceted endeavor that seeks to unravel the intricate tapestry of an individual’s inner world. By employing various techniques and methods, personality assessment aims to illuminate the characteristic traits, attitudes, beliefs, values, needs, motives, emotional states, coping styles, and aspirations that define a person’s unique identity. This comprehensive exploration extends far beyond mere surface observations, delving into the complexities of human psychology.

Personality assessment takes on diverse forms, adapting to the wide array of contexts in which it is applied. It spans the spectrum from the intricacies of online dating questionnaires to the somber introspection captured in epitaphs. It’s evident in the letters of recommendation that reflect an individual’s qualities, in the psychodiagnoses that inform therapeutic interventions, in the integrity tests woven into employment applications, and even in the psychobiographies crafted from historical records.

However, for our current exploration, we’ll focus on three pivotal functions of personality assessment, each with its distinct purpose and implications:

1. Assessment for Basic Research and Theory Explication

One of the primary roles of personality assessment lies in advancing our understanding of human behavior and psychology. Researchers employ various tools to study personality traits, attitudes, and underlying motivations. These assessments not only shed light on the intricacies of individual differences but also contribute to the development and refinement of psychological theories. By probing into the depths of human nature, researchers uncover patterns, associations, and correlations that offer insights into the underlying mechanisms that shape behavior.

2. Assessment in Applied Psychology: Therapeutic, Organizational, and Forensic Settings

Personality assessment plays a crucial role in applied psychology, spanning diverse domains such as therapy, organizational management, and forensic analysis. In therapeutic settings, assessments aid clinicians in diagnosing and understanding their clients, guiding tailored interventions that promote psychological well-being. In organizational contexts, integrity tests and personality assessments assist in identifying candidates who align with company values and work effectively within a team. In the realm of forensic psychology, assessments contribute to legal proceedings by evaluating an individual’s mental state, aiding in court decisions.

3. Assessment in Self-Exploration

A deeply personal function of personality assessment lies in the realm of self-exploration. People seek to understand themselves better, uncovering their strengths, weaknesses, and hidden facets. Personality assessments provide a structured framework for introspection, enabling individuals to gain insights into their motivations, coping mechanisms, and aspirations. This self-awareness fosters personal growth and empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their lives.

The choice of personality assessment method is intricately tied to the specific function it serves. Researchers, clinicians, and individuals navigating self-exploration carefully select instruments that align with their goals. These instruments can range from self-report questionnaires to projective techniques that reveal unconscious motivations.

In essence, personality assessment is a multifaceted tool that offers a window into the intricate landscape of human psychology. Its applications span research, practice, and self-discovery, making it an indispensable element in understanding, guiding, and embracing the complexities of human nature.

What to Measure: The Content of Personality Assessment

Within the realm of personality assessment, there lies a vast and intricate terrain populated by a myriad of constructs, ranging from extraversion to creativity, from physical attractiveness to sexual orientation, and from gender to psychopathology. Amidst this diversity, a foundational consensus emerges: personality is commonly conceptualized across three distinct levels of analysis. These levels correspond to specific goals of assessment, mirroring the depth and breadth of the human psyche.

Narrative Accounts

At the deepest stratum, we encounter the life story – a mosaic of meanings that unfurls over time, weaving itself into a narrative account. The hallmark of the life story is its innate individuality, capturing the essence of a person’s experiences and growth. Assessment at this level seeks to abstractly understand the person, transpiring in specialized contexts like case studies, biographies, and epitaphs. The narrative account acts as an implicit benchmark against which more quantitative assessments of personality can be evaluated for validity.

Characteristic Adaptations

Occupying the middle stratum, characteristic adaptations form a heterogeneous realm of analysis. This level encompasses motives, coping mechanisms, defensive styles, cognitive factors like schemas and beliefs, and developmental constructs such as personality development stages. Notable within this stratum is the Washington University Sentence Completion Test, a measure of ego development. The multifaceted nature of characteristic adaptations serves diverse assessment purposes. However, primarily, it endeavors to explain why certain behaviors manifest or remain absent, offering insights into the intricate interplay of psychological mechanisms.


The most quantifiable and accessible layer of personality lies in traits or dispositions. Here, the key objective of assessment is the description and prediction of behavior. Traits encapsulate stable patterns of behavior, thought, and emotion that define an individual’s demeanor. Through the measurement of traits, we gain insight into the consistent ways in which people engage with the world around them. This level of assessment enables the anticipation of how individuals are likely to respond to various situations and circumstances.

In parallel to these levels of analysis, three primary goals of personality assessment unfold:

1. Understanding: The most ambitious aim is to deeply comprehend the intricate makeup of an individual’s personality. This entails delving into their life story, motives, and adaptations to unearth the underlying motives, values, and experiences that shape their behavior.

2. Explanation: Slightly more focused, the goal of explanation seeks to unravel the why behind behavioral patterns. By examining characteristic adaptations, individuals and researchers alike seek to illuminate the mechanisms driving specific actions or reactions.

3. Description and Prediction: At the trait level, the focus shifts to succinctly describing a person’s personality and using these descriptors to predict their future behaviors. Traits offer a structured framework for anticipating how individuals are likely to navigate various situations.

In summation, personality assessment embarks on a journey that traverses the depths of individuality, the intricacies of adaptation, and the quantifiable nature of traits. These levels of analysis serve as windows into the multifaceted landscape of human behavior and psychology, underpinning our quest to understand, explain, and anticipate the complexities of personality.

The Meaning of Traits

At the core of personality description lies traits – the fundamental building blocks that capture the enduring distinctions among individuals. This level of assessment, focusing on traits, adopts a variable-centered and nomothetic perspective, emphasizing the disparities between people. This stands in contrast to the person-centered and idiographic approach that characterizes deeper and more abstract personality assessments.

In the intricate web of human differences, psychologists are faced with the task of discerning which distinctions warrant exploration. Evolutionary, psychoanalytic, and behavioral viewpoints have contributed to identifying traits of significance in personality assessment. However, a pragmatic, data-driven approach has largely guided this pursuit. At its essence, trait attribution involves drawing from concise summaries of past behavior. The rationale is grounded in the notion that past behaviors often foreshadow future actions. Consequently, traits serve as potent indicators for predicting forthcoming behaviors.

Beyond this foundational approach, incorporating situational factors enriches the explanatory power of traits. Traits, when considered alongside contextual influences, aid in comprehending behaviors and unraveling the complexities of an individual’s disposition. For instance, observing that “Jane experiences panic attacks in crowded places” could lead to the inference that “Jane is likely to avoid the party due to her agoraphobia.” This integration of traits and situational dynamics transcends triviality, offering insights that extend beyond the realm of tautological reasoning.

In essence, the meaning of traits extends beyond mere labels. They encapsulate enduring differences, offering a framework for understanding, predicting, and explaining human behavior. As psychologists navigate the intricate landscape of personality, traits emerge as invaluable tools that bridge the gap between past actions and future manifestations, shedding light on the nuanced complexities that shape an individual’s journey.

The Five-Factor Model

Exploring the complexities of human personality has given rise to the Five-Factor Model (FFM), a framework that sheds light on the multifaceted dimensions that shape individuals’ behaviors and traits. Factor analytic revelations have underscored that a multitude of the 18,000 words utilized to describe personality in the English language stem from variations of five fundamental traits. The FFM stands as a pivotal contemporary perspective, serving as a guiding paradigm for modern personality assessment research. These five traits, often referred to as the Big Five, encompass extraversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness to experience.


Within the expansive landscape of the Big Five traits, extraversion emerges as a dimension open to diverse interpretations. From Jung’s perspective, extraversion and introversion delineate the preferred direction of attention or focus: Extraverts are drawn to the external, shared world, while introverts immerse themselves in internal, idiosyncratic experiences. Eysenck introduces a physiological lens to extraversion (or extroversion), correlating it with arousal levels in the reticular activating system. Extraverts are seen as seeking external stimulation due to understimulation, while introverts gravitate towards quieter environments due to overstimulation. Another viewpoint connects extraversion to positive affect, with extraverts displaying greater likelihood of experiencing and expressing positive emotions. In behavioral terms, social motivation and adeptness define extraversion, often described as vivacious sociability or surgency.

Given the extensive spectrum of extraversion-introversion, its relevance in comprehending individual differences in motivations, behaviors, and satisfaction becomes undeniable. Measurement of extraversion is embedded in most comprehensive personality inventories used by psychologists.

Neuroticism. At the heart of the Big Five, neuroticism surfaces as a disposition inclined towards negative affect, anxiety, and emotional turmoil. Conversely, its counterpart encompasses well-being, emotional stability, and adjustment. Neuroticism correlates with sensitivity to punishment over reward, and a predisposition towards behavioral inhibition rather than activation. However, certain applied settings, such as selection processes, may be constrained by the Americans with Disabilities Act in explicitly measuring neuroticism, owing to its linkage with psychological health.

Conscientiousness. Conscientiousness emerges as an expansive trait encompassing discipline, adherence to rules, work ethic, organization, impulse control, and responsibility. Its purview extends to behavioral constraint, socialization, and a respectful disposition. This trait is tightly interwoven with job performance, being a prominent predictor, and aligns closely with scores on integrity tests commonly used in personnel selection. Notably, the term “conscientiousness” also refers to a stage in personality development associated with transcending conformity and internalizing a moral compass, leading to some terminological confusion.

Agreeableness. Comprising attributes like affability, friendly compliance, warmth, and conformity, agreeableness exudes a sense of likability. This trait also encompasses communion, encapsulating the positive essence of the feminine gender role. Drenched in evaluative implications, agreeableness draws its uniqueness from its intrinsic linkage with likability. Observer ratings of agreeableness may be more subjective and display less interrater consensus than those of other traits, given its evaluative nature.

Openness. Nestled within the Five-Factor Model, Openness to Experience radiates a plethora of attributes: a wide spectrum of interests, curiosity, cultural sophistication, and even elements like flexibility, intelligence, political liberalism, and susceptibility to hypnosis. While the core of openness embodies curiosity and cultural breadth, its periphery encompasses more diverse components. Openness generally emerges as the smallest trait in statistical analyses, yet its core and peripheral aspects remain significant empirical contributors in various contexts.

In summation, the Five-Factor Model offers a framework to decipher the multifaceted dimensions of personality. Each trait encapsulates a unique facet of human behavior and cognition, contributing to our comprehension of the intricate mosaic that shapes individuality.

Beyond the Five Factors

While the five-factor model serves as a valuable launching pad for personality assessment, the ever-evolving landscape of human personality has unveiled additional dimensions that reside between, beyond, and beneath the five factors. These newfound personality characteristics enrich our understanding by offering a more intricate and theoretically robust framework. Picture the five factors as cardinal axes, around which other sets of axes form a matrix, crafting a more nuanced perspective. For instance, Extraversion and Neuroticism might pivot towards the more elemental concepts of Anxiety and Impulsivity, adding depth to our comprehension.

Venturing beyond the confines of the five factors, a host of traits emerge that find inadequate representation within this framework. This array includes traits like spirituality, attractiveness, insight, ambition, unpleasantness, manipulativeness, egotism, seductiveness, integrity, thriftiness, risk-taking, and humor. Beneath the umbrella of the five factors, narrower constructs lie, potentially holding greater predictive value. Punctuality, for instance, in specific contexts, may offer more insightful information compared to the broader trait of Conscientiousness, under which it falls imperfectly.

The five-factor model draws its origins from common vernacular usage. The factor analysis techniques forming its foundation offer a potentially comprehensive and non-redundant toolkit for describing the spectrum of personality traits. However, lay usage isn’t the sole wellspring for personality traits, and statistical elegance doesn’t stand alone as the criterion for construct selection. Thus, many psychologists prefer alternative sets of constructs, grounded in the theoretical frameworks established by luminaries like Jung, Murray, Eysenck, and Gough. These differing viewpoints and their implications are explored in the subsequent section.

In essence, the landscape of personality remains dynamic and intricate, extending far beyond the five factors, urging us to explore the interplay of additional traits, their nuances, and the theoretical perspectives that guide our understanding.

How to Measure: The Tools of Personality Assessment

The arsenal of personality assessment encompasses various methods, with self-report measures and observer rating scales taking center stage. Within self-report measures, a spectrum unfolds, encompassing multitrait personality inventories, single-trait personality scales, and projective techniques.

Personality Inventories

Personality inventories stand as questionnaires designed to unveil scores across multiple traits or attributes. These assessments usually require 30 to 75 minutes for completion and target adult respondents. Most inventories comprise statements (e.g., “Unfamiliar cities make me uneasy”) or adjectives (e.g., “friendly”). Participants respond using dichotomous formats (e.g., true/false) or 3-to-7-point scales (e.g., strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, strongly disagree).

The NEO Personality Inventory, Revised

The Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO PI-R) stands as the quintessential and extensively researched measure of the five-factor model. This inventory can be employed in two forms: the third-person version to derive observer ratings and the more familiar first-person version. The NEO PI-R transcends the measurement of the five factors, offering insights into 30 facet scales that delve into specific aspects, like Gregariousness (a facet of Extraversion), Trust (Agreeableness), and Aesthetics (Openness). For a more streamlined approach, the NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) provides scores solely at the broader domain level. Furthermore, a condensed version known as NEO-4 is available when assessing Neuroticism is deemed inappropriate.

The roots of NEO PI-R trace back to its predecessors – the NEO (lacking measures for Agreeableness and Conscientiousness) and the NEO PI (featuring facet scales for only the initial three domains). This tool has seen translations in around 25 languages, playing a pivotal role in studies ranging from profiling American presidents to cross-sectional explorations of personality evolution. Regarding the latter, the five factors generally exhibit notable stability across adulthood. In vocational contexts, the NEO PI-R acts as a complementary tool, enhancing the assessment landscape without replacing measures of vocational interest.

Dynamic shifts have also been noted in therapeutic and rehabilitative settings. Scores on the NEO PI-R’s Neuroticism scale have been observed to decline during therapy, while Conscientiousness scores tend to rise over the course of drug rehabilitation programs. The NEO PI-R domain scores have shown correlations with psychologists’ evaluations of treatment efficacy and appropriateness. Clients scoring high on Openness tend to benefit from client-centered techniques, whereas those with elevated Neuroticism tend to find value in journaling and vocational approaches.

Unlike certain personality inventories, the NEO PI-R refrains from incorporating faking or invalidity indices, aside from a few closing questions explicitly inquiring about honest, accurate, and sequential responses. This omission stems from empirical evidence indicating that excluding “invalid” protocols might not enhance, but potentially diminish test validity, suggesting that such protocols indeed hold informative content. Recognizing individual variances in the probability of less-than-honest responses, the NEO PI-R acknowledges the potential meaningfulness of these differences.

Other Measures of the Five Factors

Beyond the NEO PI-R, multiple avenues exist to assess the five factors. Explicit measurements of these factors include the Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI), extensively utilized in organizational contexts, and two assessments grounded in straightforward adjectives: the Goldberg Big Five Markers and the Interpersonal Adjective Scales-Revised. Apart from the direct derivatives of the five-factor model, there are additional assessments for one or more of these traits. For instance, Conscientiousness finds representation in various measures like the Rule-consciousness and Perfectionism scales within the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16 PF), the Organization and Responsibility scales of the Jackson Personality Inventory (JPI), the Control and Harm-avoidance scales of the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire (MPQ), and the Responsibility and Achievement scales gauged through Conformance on the California Psychological Inventory (CPI).

However, it’s crucial to recognize that these different measures of the five factors don’t necessarily serve as interchangeable counterparts. A prime example is the externalizing dimension of the CPI, akin to Extraversion, which predominantly gauges social skills rather than social interest. Furthermore, while high Agreeableness scores on the NEO tend to reflect more obsequiousness and reduced charm, high Agreeableness scores on the HPI paint a different picture.

The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire

Much like the measurements of the five-factor model, the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16 PF) evolved from factor analyses of personality-descriptive words found in the English language. This assessment, originally crafted by Raymond B. Cattell in 1949 and presently in its fifth iteration, has transitioned from using neologisms (e.g., Schizothymia and Threctia) in earlier versions to familiar terms (e.g., Warmth and Social Boldness) for labeling its measures. The questionnaire adopts a multilayered approach to evaluation, furnishing scores for both medium-bandwidth primary dimensions and the five overarching global factors: Extraversion, Anxiety, Tough Mindedness, Independence, and Self-Control.

The 16 PF stands out by encompassing items that gauge reasoning skills or intelligence in conjunction with core personality traits. This blending of distinct constructs like cognitive ability and personality within the obtained scores has prompted criticism from certain psychologists who deem it an undesirable characteristic.

The Eysenck Inventories and Related Measures

Several assessments are rooted in personality models that prioritize psychometric and biological simplicity. Foremost among these is the suite of measures designed by Hans Eysenck. The Eysenck Personality Questionnaire Revised (EPQR) stands as a 100-item instrument evaluating three overarching factors: Extraversion, Neuroticism, and Psychoticism. The nomenclature for the last factor is arguably idiosyncratic, as high scorers are more inclined toward impulsivity than serious psychopathology. Beyond the three principal factors, the EPQR encompasses a Lie scale gauging conformity, the inclination to create favorable impressions, and the potential for “faking good.” Additionally, a condensed 48-item version called EPQRS is also available.

A counterpart to the EPQ-R, the Zuckerman-Kuhlman Personality Questionnaire (ZKPQ) boasts similar length and elucidates five distinct factors: Impulsive Sensation Seeking, Neuroticism-Anxiety, Aggression-Hostility, Activity, and Sociability. The assessment features an Infrequency scale for validity checks. Notably, Impulsive Sensation Seeking is linked with various risk-taking behaviors.

Cloninger’s Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI) encompasses 240 items appraising four biologically rooted parameters (Novelty Seeking, Harm Avoidance, Reward Dependence, and Persistence) along with three character dimensions (Self-Directedness, Cooperativeness, and Self-Transcendence). The TCI finds primary usage in the realms of psychiatry and medicine.

The California Psychological Inventory

The California Psychological Inventory (CPI) is accessible in two versions, one with 434 items and another abbreviated form with 260 items. Both versions comprise twenty-nine scales, with nearly all corresponding scales displaying correlations of .89 or higher.

The foundational constructs gauged by the CPI are “folk concepts” with universal relevance evident across diverse societies and cultures. These scales, individually and collectively, aim to forecast how others perceive the respondent and how the respondent behaves in consequential situations. Folk concept scales encompass interpersonal tendencies (e.g., Dominance and Sociability) and orientation towards norms and rules (e.g., Responsibility and Self-Control). These themes are encapsulated within two broader “vector” scales, together forming a fourfold typology. Alphas exhibit extraversion, Betas lean towards introversion, and both demonstrate a respect for rules. Gammas and Deltas, extraverted and introverted respectively, display skepticism towards rules and challenge the status quo. A third vector assesses the level of realization, gauging how closely a type’s potential is actualized.

The vector scales amalgamate to create a structural model premised on the notion that each of the four types can contribute positively or grapple with distinct challenges in society. High levels of realization may see Alphas as benevolent leaders, whereas lower levels could portray them as authoritarian. Betas may appear saintly or constricted conformists based on their level of realization. At different levels, Gammas may advocate progressive change or manifest as histrionic complainers, while Deltas could be visionary or experience internal conflicts that lead to psychosis.

The typology holds empirical value in predicting significant life events. For instance, among high school students, the typology correlates with college attendance likelihood. Alphas are most likely to attend college, whereas Deltas are least inclined. Additionally, a notable number of Alphas and Gammas enroll in graduate programs for counseling psychology. While these findings provide insights, it’s important to acknowledge the limitations of typologies, as discussed in the section on measures grounded in Jung’s model.

Beyond the core themes and the typology, the CPI encompasses folk scales examining academic and cognitive functioning (e.g., Achievement via Conformance and Achievement via Independence) and personal style (e.g., Flexibility and Psychological Mindedness or Insightfulness). The CPI also features scales evaluating constructs like Law Enforcement Orientation (LEO), Work Orientation, Managerial Potential, Leadership, and Creative Temperament. Many of these scales were empirically developed through criterion groups or correlations with behavioral criteria.

While the CPI’s length might seem daunting, the true/false response format and engaging item content help mitigate potential tedium. For instance, the Communality scale, designed partially to detect random or improbable responses, includes items intended to be egosyntonic (e.g., “I would fight if someone tried to take my rights away” and “Education is more important than most people think”). The CPI serves as a valuable clinical tool for identifying client strengths and predicting performance across various settings, from healthcare to corrections, and from academia to organizations.

Measures Based on Murray’s Model

Arguably the most fertile theoretical underpinning for personality assessments stems from Henry Murray’s needs theory.

The Personality Research Form (PRF Form E), developed by Douglas N. Jackson, stands out as a prominent self-report needs assessment inventory. Comprising 352 items, this inventory evaluates 20 needs (e.g., Achievement, Affiliation, and Play). A significant body of research validates its utility across diverse functions, including personnel selection and leadership style assessment. Another needs measure, primarily of historical significance, is the Edwards Personal Preference Schedule (EPPS). Notably, the EPPS sought to counter socially desirable or acquiescent test-taking tendencies by employing a forced-choice response format. However, this attempt to eliminate response style-related variance ultimately impacted the instrument’s validity, leading to its diminished usage over time. Lastly, the Adjective Check List entails a list of 300 adjectives that respondents either check or leave blank. These responses are then scored to derive measures of 15 needs (e.g., Dominance, Exhibition, and Aggression).

Measures Based on Jung’s Model

Carl Jung’s psychological types theory has given rise to the widely used Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), making it one of the most prevalent personality assessment tools. The MBTI encompasses three versions: Form G (126 items), Form M (93 items), and Form Q (144 items), each capturing Extraversion-Introversion (E-I), Sensing-Intuition (S-N), Thinking-Feeling (T-F), and Judging-Perceiving (J-P). These dimensions are treated as dichotomies, resulting in 16 distinct types—a feature contributing to the measure’s popularity. Employing an ENFP designation (Extraverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Perceiving) succinctly describes an individual’s personality and fosters a sense of belonging to a like-minded community.

Typologies are alluring, and the influence of the MBTI’s success has seeped into other tests, influencing changes such as the structural model incorporated into the CPI. However, the oversimplification arising from reducing scores to dichotomies comes at a cost. This approach fails to capture the intricate diversity of personality within individuals and the tendency for many to score near the mean on at least one dimension. As a result, an individual’s type classification could shift over time, diminishing the assessment’s value, although not its popularity.

The latest addition, Form Q, expands the MBTI by incorporating narrow facets alongside the typological classification based on the four broad dichotomies. Initiating-Receiving stands at the core of Extraversion-Introversion, while Systematic-Casual serves as the heart of Judging-Perceiving.

While research suggests that the narrow facets offer additional insights, there is limited information on their specific content. The MBTI’s essence remains its typology, leading to the emergence of competing measures inspired by Jungian type theory. These include the Grey-Wheelwright Jungian Type Survey, the Singer-Loomis Type Development Inventory, the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, and the Personal Preferences Self-Description Questionnaire.

Measures Intended for the Measurement of Psychopathology

Scheduled for release in late 2007, the revised Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-RF), spanning 338 items, brings forth a collection of Restructured Clinical (RC) scales, designed with a rational foundation rooted in psychometric structure. A distinctive aspect of the RC scales is their brevity compared to the original clinical scales. More significantly, their purpose is to disentangle the pervasive factor of generalized anxiety or “demoralization” from other narrower concerns examined by the instrument, such as somaticization—an instance where mental distress is expressed through physical symptoms. This differentiation augments the potential of the RC scales, rendering them less duplicative and more insightful than their predecessor scales.

A pivotal feature of the MMPI-RF is its multi-tiered approach to dysfunction evaluation. At the broadest stratum, three indices are included: Emotional/Internalizing (evaluating emotional and mood disorders), Thought (assessing irrational thought patterns), and Behavioral/Externalizing (scrutinizing issues linked to under-socialization or acting out behaviors). Nested beneath these are Somatic scales and Interest scales targeting narrower problems like Head Pain Complaints and Aesthetic-Literary interests, respectively. Furthermore, the MMPI-RF encompasses measurements of personality disorder dimensions, including Aggressiveness and Introversion. To establish the efficacy of the Restructured Clinical scales over the previous iteration, empirical research is essential.

Single-Trait Personality Scales

Beyond the encompassing inventories highlighted earlier, self-report-based personality assessment frequently incorporates responses to personality scales honing in on single traits. Examples abound, such as the Beck Depression Inventory, the Locus of Control scale (and its specific derivatives like the Health Locus of Control scale), and instruments probing psych-ache (indicative of unbearable psychological pain linked to suicidal tendencies), alexithymia (reflecting an inability to articulate emotions), adult attachment, body image, attitudes towards eating habits, and a plethora of social, cultural, and political viewpoints.

Projective Measures: Sentence Completion Tests

Projective techniques emerge as a blend of behavioral assessment, self-report, and the perceptions of an observer. Among these, sentence completion forms hold particular importance in personality evaluation. These semistructured assessments prompt respondents to complete sentence stems like “My mother…”. Among them, the Washington University Sentence Completion Test by Loevinger shines as the most validated, assessing social and cognitive maturity extensively studied in personality development, particularly during college years. Another contender is the Rotter Incomplete Sentences Blank, probing emotional adaptation levels.

Measures for Observer Ratings

Psychologists often adopt a systematic approach to comprehend clients, enhancing clarity of impressions, enabling comparisons between clients and real or idealized counterparts, and gauging therapeutic progress. An array of tools exists for quantifying observer evaluations of personality, encompassing some of the measures mentioned earlier (e.g., NEO PI-R). Rating scales are also prominent in this domain. For instance, the Structured Interview for the Five-Factor Model of Personality (SIFFM) entails a 120-item semistructured interview, delving into maladaptive and adaptive facets of the five factors. The SIFFM particularly targets personality disorders and related pathological aspects.

The Q-sort methodology stands out as an intriguing approach within rating scales. It involves comparative assessments made ipsatively, comparing traits within an individual (e.g., Fred’s ambition versus his aggression) as opposed to the normative comparisons that involve comparing traits among individuals (e.g., Fred’s aggression compared to Erik’s).

Several personality measures adopt the Q-sort technique. The California Q-set features 100 items rooted in clinical contexts. Raters allocate items into 7 to 9 categories, assessing various dimensions of personality and defense mechanisms (e.g., “Displays high intellectual capacity,” “Finds discomfort in uncertainty and complexity,” and “Channels anxiety and stress into physical symptoms”). Versions for both adults and children are available. The Shedler-Westen Assessment Procedure (SWAP-200), a lengthier Q-set, has also emerged. Although Q-sets demand considerable time due to the need for paired item comparisons to fit ratings into a prescribed distribution, their robust empirical outcomes suggest this investment to be worthwhile.

Current and Future Directions in Personality Assessment

The realm of personality assessment is presently undergoing a period of dynamic creativity, marked by the inception of novel measures and the enhancement of existing ones. This evolution is propelled by technological advancements and bolstered by a societal inclination that perceives testing, evaluation, and accountability as tools serving the collective welfare. However, the contemporary triumphs of personality assessment are accompanied by inherent risks. The proliferation of the Internet has ushered in online personality assessments of uncertain validity, reaching countless households. While some of these unvetted and widely utilized assessments might offer valuable introspection to seekers of self-understanding, the same cannot be assumed across the board. Regrettably, public doubt surrounding the credibility of personality tests, once attributed to the assertions of astrologers, palm readers, and phrenologists, is now fueled by the rampant availability of amateurish personality inventories.

In formal assessment scenarios, a universal instrument cannot suit every purpose. The purpose of the test, the preferences of the client and evaluator, and the influences of culture and community should serve as the guiding principles for selecting and, when necessary, crafting measures. Recognizing the uniqueness of individuals, and when wielded appropriately, the tools of personality assessment will continue to empower counselors in comprehending, encapsulating, and advancing the distinctiveness of human individuals.


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