Personality Assessment

Paul T. Costa, Jr., and Robert R. McCrae

National Institutes of Health

I. Assessment Methods and Instruments

II. Evaluating Assessment Methods

III. Personality Assessment and Personality Theory

Five-Factor Model An organization of personality traits in terms of the broad factors of neuroticism versus emotional stability, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Objective Test An assessment device that can be scored clerically, without the need for clinical interpretation.

Projective Technique A method of assessment in which responses to ambiguous stimuli (e.g., inkblots) are thought to reveal aspects of the respondent's personality.

Reliability The consistency with which an assessment instrument gives the same results. Validity The accuracy with which an assessment instrument measures its intended construct.

The term personality is used by different theorists in widely different ways, and the practice of PERSONALITY ASSESSMENT is correspondingly varied. Nevertheless, most definitions of personality refer to features that characterize an individual and distinguish him or her from others, and most assessment procedures attempt to measure these features, usually in comparison to the average person. Different approaches to personality assessment differ in the variables they measure, in the source of information about the individual, and in the way information is evaluated. This article reviews the most common approaches to personality assessment (projective techniques, self-report questionnaires, observer ratings, and laboratory measures) and their status in contemporary psychological science and practice.

Personality variables are pervasive and enduring, and thus can be expected to have an impact on a variety of areas in the individual's lifeā€”for example, the pro-totypic extrovert has a wide circle of friends, speaks out in class, does well in enterprising occupations, enjoys competitive sports, and has an optimistic outlook in life. In consequence, personality assessment is important in many applied areas. Psychiatrists who need to diagnose psychopathology, counselors who want to suggest meaningful vocational choices, and physicians concerned with behavioral health risk factors may all turn to personality assessment. Personality variables are important in forensic, developmental, educational, social, industrial, and clinical psychology, as well as personality psychology, the discipline which seeks a scientific understanding of personality itself. For all these purposes, accurate assessment of personality is crucial.

Personality is also of great importance to laypersons in everyday life and in such significant decisions as whom to vote for or marry. Lay evaluations of personality are in some respects unscientific and susceptible to many biases; in other respects they are extremely sophisticated interpretations of observed behavior. Much (though not all) of personality assessment consists of knowing how to systematize the information laypersons have about themselves and each other in order to capitalize on the strengths and reduce the limitations of lay perceptions of personality.

Personality Assessment

The scientific study of individual differences in personality can be traced to the work of Sir Francis Galton in the 1880s, and it has occupied many of the brightest minds in psychology since. During the 1950s and 1960s, personality assessment underwent a period of crisis, based in part on humanistic objections to the depersonalizing labeling that much assessment seemed to foster, and in part on real (although exaggerated) technical problems with assessment instruments. Considerable progress has been made in the past 30 years in both personality theory and test construction, and today personality assessment is once again assuming a central role in psychology.

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