Why bother with Psychometrics?
What is a Psychometric test?
Since the dawn of time, mankind has sought to measure things, since measuring things is useful. But we’re not always very good at it. The job of measuring physical characteristics like height, weight and so on is very easy, because there is a clearly correct answer. If we somehow get the answer wrong, we can quickly figure out why. Things like weight are obviously useful to measure, since they let us track our development when we’re growing up, and when we want to change.
But these days, great amounts of effort are put into measuring things that are much harder to measure: the time it will take to finish copying that file, the predictions of which candidate is going to win the election, and even our own psychologies: Hence the term ‘psycho’ – ‘metric’, or psychological measurement.
These things are also clearly useful to measure, just as it’s useful to measure weight, but we need more specialised tools and methods to do so. Even then we might not be able to get the answer entirely right. However, what we absolutely can do is come to an answer close enough to be useful.
This is what a psychometric test is trying to do: It’s a way of measuring the characteristics that make up ‘you’ as a person, and being accurate enough to help people decide what to do next. Very often a psychometric test is an online-or-paper exercise or questionnaire, but there are some more unusual ones out there – and the key is that they are a measurement of a psychological concept: personality, intelligence, memory, emotion, resilience, and so on.
Why should we bother with them?
There’s no doubt that psychometrics split opinions. One of the most common criticisms is that they are trying to simplify things that are actually very complex: “How can we reduce a whole person with all their thoughts, to a simple set of numbers?”. Well, guilty as charged – this criticism highlights one of the biggest limitations of a psychometric. On its own, the test can only ever give us an indication about a person. It needs to be understood, contextualised, tempered with the rest of the story.
The key element that separates a psychometric from witchcraft is a grounding in empirical science, and there are hundreds of articles and journals you can delve into to find evidence for and against each one. For instance, a cursory google search shows three great articles: Showing the misuse of psychometrics can be troublesome, but myths denouncing their use are busted, and that they contribute to making better decisions as long as the tests are backed up by good follow-ups and by people properly trained in their use.
Simply put by Voltaire, or perhaps Spiderman depending on your generation, “With great power, comes great responsibility”. If psychometrics are used like a blunt instrument, they will distort the truth. If they are used carefully and precisely, they can be invaluable.
Here is another way to look at it: Psychometrics are a set of hypotheses about you as a person. Ones you agree with are useful, as you now have the proof-in-the-pudding that you behave in that way and can take some actions as a result. Ones you disagree with are also useful because the conflict highlights a difference in the way you actively see yourself, and how you implicitly answered to the questions relating to that hypothesis. Of course, these situations can’t be explained by the data itself, and really need to be followed up on to be of any value. Thus, you will almost always see proper personality tests used in conjunction with coaching conversations, ability tests in combination with interviews, and so on.
How do we know if they are ‘good’ or not?
So, we have the justification for using a psychometric test. How do we know whether, say, the EQi 2.0 is more valuable than “which Hogwarts house are you in”?
(Ravenclaw, by the way.)
The two key words to look out for are reliability, and validity. A good psychometric will be able to support itself with reliability and validity studies when asked for. There are many different ways these two characteristics can be measured, but by & large, they refer to:
Reliability – Is it consistent? Can I take the same test several times, and expect the same results?
Validity – Does it do what it says on the tin? If the test says I am untidy, is it true in reality?
It’s important to know that these two things are independent of each other. For instance, imagine you have a set of scales that always measures 10 pounds heavier than it should. It’s certainly reliable – every time you measure yourself on it you get consistent results, because any change is a real change and not due to the problem with the scales. But it’s certainly NOT valid – because your actual weight is 10 pounds lighter than the scales are telling you!
There it is then: a short introduction into the world of psychometrics. If anything in this article inspired you to ask a question, please do comment on Linked In or Twitter, Tweet at @dovenestjacob, or e-mail me at Jacob.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next time, I’ll be looking at the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (or MBTI), one of the most widely used personality tools – and often considered to be one of the most controversial!
Psyence & Dove Nest Group