Theoretical and Measurement Issues in Trait Psychology

Theoretical Issues

Meaningful Differences between Individuals Consistency over Time Consistency across Situations Person-Situation Interaction Aggregation

Measurement Issues


Faking on Questionnaires Response Sets

Beware of Barnum Statements in Personality Test Interpretations

Personality and Prediction

Applications of Personality Testing in the Workplace

Legal Issues in Personality Testing in Employment Settings

Personnel Selection—Choosing the Right Person for the Job

Selection in Business Settings—The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

Selection in Business Settings—The Hogan Personality Inventory

Summary and Evaluation Key Terms


Signing up for an Internet | dating service often involves answering a personality trait questionnaire.

arah was a junior in college with a double major in math and computer science, which left her little time to socialize. She was a bit shy , especially with men her own age. Although she wanted to date more, she was very particular about the characteristics she looked for in a man. She decided that a Web-based dating service might be an ef ficient way to find someone to date. She signed up with Internet dating service and discovered that the first step was to complete an exten sive personality inventory . She answered a lot of questions, about her likes and dislikes, her habits, traits, and what others thought of her. She even answered questions about the kind of car she owned and her driving style. After this, the site returned the personality profiles of a few men who, the site claimed, would b good matches for her . One looked particularly interesting to her , so she spent a couple of hours with him in online chat sessions. As these went well, Sarah decided to call him a couple of times on the phone. They had a lot in common and Sarah found it easy to talk to him. She enjoyed the conversations, as did he, so they decided to take the next step and meet in person for a dinner date. When they made arrangements to meet, she was surprised to learn that they lived in the same apartment complex and that they had probably already seen one another , perhaps had even spoken to one another. But it took an Internet dating service, using a program that matches people according to personality , for them to actually find each othe .

There are many Internet-based dating services, and many of these use personality psychologists to help them do a better job of matching people. For

Signing up for an Internet | dating service often involves answering a personality trait questionnaire.

A key task for a first date is determining what you have in common with the other person—that is, how similar your personalities are.

example, if a person is introverted and sensitive, will he or she get along with someone who is practical and conscientious? Psychologists are also using the Web to gather data on what makes two people become good companions for each other . What they are learning then enters into quantitative software programs that run through a complex matching procedure for the online dating services.

For example, the website eHarmony .com uses a 480-item personality questionnaire. The site also presents the applicant with a list of "bad behaviors" and asks them to check of f those they "absolutely cannot stand" in someone they date. This dating service uses a combined matching system that relies on selecting matches on major personality traits and then deselecting based on what the applicant says he or she cannot tolerate in another . Other Internet dating services, such as Matchmaker .com and, also gather extensive personality data and engage in sophisticated matching routines.

Matching on personality traits sounds like a great idea, but it works only to the extent that people are telling the truth about themselves when they answer the questionnaires. People can represent themselves falsely in terms of physical characteristics (e.g., say they are petite when they are not, say they have thick, wavy hair when they are in fact bald), and they may represent themselves falsely in terms of their personality. They may, for example, try to cover up an aggressive, abusive personality. Consequently, some of these dating services are very concerned about safety and are using techniques from personality assessment to detect potential problem clients. For example, some sites ask about minor misbehaviors, such as "I never resent being asked to return a favor" or "I have, on occasion, told a white lie." People who deny a lot of these common faults raise a red flag, sinc they are probably misrepresenting themselves on all the questionnaires. In fact, claims that 16 percent of its clients are asked to leave the site based on their answers to such questionnaires (reported in U.S. News & W orldReport, September 29, 2003).

This use of personality testing brings into focus several questions about measurement of traits. Do traits represent consistent behavior patterns, such that we could make accurate predictions about a person' s future based on her or his trait standings? How do personality traits interact with situations, particularly social situations? Are there ways to detect if someone is not telling the truth on a personality questionnaire? Are some people motivated to fake good or to fake bad on questionnaires?

Personality measures are also used in other selection situations, such as for jobs or for prison parole or for placement within an or ganization. What are some of the legal issues in using personality measures to make such decisions? Are there some common problems with selection procedures? Can an employer use a measure of "integrity" to screen out potentially dishonest employees? What about selecting people for admission into college, law school, or medical school on the basis of aptitude tests or other so-called intelligence tests?

Although many of these questions seem abstract, they are important for how we think about personality traits. They are important for understanding controversial issues, such as the use of personality measures in business, industry , and education for the selection, training, and promotion of candidates.

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