Psychological Tests and Structured Interviews: Introduction

Uploaded 8/27/2010, approx. 4 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin. I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

Personality assessment is perhaps more of an art form than a science.

In an attempt to render it as objective and standardized as possible, generations of clinicians came up with psychological tests and structured interviews. These are administered under similar conditions and use identical stimuli to elicit information from respondents.

This way, any disparity in the responses of the subjects can and is attributed to the idiosyncrasies of their personalities and not to any flaws in the tests themselves.

Most tests restrict the repertory of permitted answers.

Consider, for instance, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, the MMBI-2. The true or false are the only allowed reactions to questions in the MMBI. Scoring and keying the results is also an automated process wherein all true responses get one or more points on one or more scales. All false responses get no points at all.

So these processes are automated and this limits the involvement of the diagnostician to the interpretation of the test results, the scale scores.

Admittedly, interpretation is arguably more important than data gathering. Summing it up, inevitably biased human input cannot and is not avoided in the process of personality assessment and evaluation, but its pernicious effects are somewhat reigned in by the systematic and impartial nature of the underlying instruments, the psychological tests.

Still, rather than rely on one questionnaire and its interpretation, most practitioners administer to the same subject a battery of tests and structured interviews. These often vary in important aspects, their response formats, the stimuli involved, the procedures of administration and the scoring methodology.

Moreover, in order to establish a test's reliability, many diagnosticians administer it repeatedly over time to the same client. If the interpreted results are more or less the same, the test is said to be reliable.

The outcomes of various tests must fit in with each other. Put together, they must provide a consistent and coherent picture.

If one test yields readings that are constantly at odds with the conclusions of other questionnaires or interviews, this test may not be valid.

In other words, it may not be measuring what it claims to be measuring.

Thus, a test quantifying one's grandiosity must conform to the scores of tests which measure a reluctance to admit failings or propensity to present a socially desirable and inflated facade. These elements must fit together, grandiosity, reluctance to admit failings, and an inflated self-image for self.

If a grandiosity test is positively related to irrelevant, conceptually independent traits, such as intelligence or depression, it doesn't render it valid. There's something wrong with it.

Most tests are either objective or projective.

The psychologist George Kelly offered this tongue-in-cheek definition of both in an article in 1958 titled Men's Construction of His Alternatives. It's included in his book The Assessment of Human Motives.

He says, when the subject is asked to guess what the examiner is thinking, we call it an objective test. When the examiner tries to guess what the subject is thinking, we call it a projective device.

The scoring of objective tests is computerized, no human input is involved.

Examples of such standardized instruments include the MMPI-2, the California Psychological Inventory, the CPI, and the Mellon Clinical Multi-Actual Inventory in its second edition by now.

Of course, a human finally leans the meaning of the data gathered by these questionnaires. Interpretation ultimately depends on the knowledge, training, experience, skills, and natural gifts of the therapist or diagnostician who administered the test.

Projective tests are far less structured and thus a lot more ambiguous.

As L. K. Frank observed in a 1939 article titled Projective Methods for the Study of Personality, the patient's responses to such tests are projections of his way of seeing life. His meanings, significances, patterns, especially his feelings.

In projective tests, the responses are not constrained. The scoring is done exclusively by humans and involves judgment and thus, of course, bias.

Clinicians rarely agree on the same interpretation and often use competing methods of scoring, yielding disparate results.

The diagnostician's personality comes into prominent play in projective tests. The best known of these so-called tests is the Rorschach set of inputs.

In the following series of videos, we will discuss eight very important psychological tests and structured interviews.

Stay with us and keep watching.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like the following:

MMPI-2 Psychological Test: Controversial, but Hard to Fake

The MMPI-2 test booklet has 567 items, but a rough assessment can be made based on the first 370 queries. The items are arranged in scales, and the responses are compared to answers provided by control subjects. The nature of the deviation determines the patient's traits and tendencies, but not their diagnosis. The test results place the subject in a group of patients who reacted similarly, and the validity scales indicate whether the patient responded truthfully and accurately or was trying to manipulate the test. The clinical scales measure various mental health issues, and the interpretation of the MMPI-2 is now fully computerized.

Is S/he a Narcissist? Use These TESTS! (Compilation)

Professor Sam Vaknin discusses various personality assessment tests in this section. He talks about the three R's test, which helps determine whether someone is a full-fledged narcissist or merely narcissistic. He also discusses the characteristics that attract narcissists to potential partners and briefly touches on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality assessment test. He then discusses the weaknesses and criticisms of the MBTI and Jungian theory. Finally, he talks about the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2), the Psychopathy Checklist Revised Test (PCLR), and the Rorschach ink blots test, and notes that personality assessment is more of an art form than a science.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI): Fortune Cookie or Reliable Test?

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a widely used and contested personality assessment test with various versions and millions of users worldwide. It is based on Jungian theory and classifies individuals into one of 16 personality types. While some studies have found the MBTI to be valid and useful, others criticize its dichotomous nature, lack of reliability, and deviation from Jung's original theory. Despite these criticisms, the MBTI remains popular and can provide insight, raise self-awareness, and help individuals understand their past experiences and relationships.

Normal Personality and Personality Disorders

Personality is a complex pattern of deeply embedded psychological characteristics that are expressed automatically in almost every area of psychological function. Personality traits are enduring patterns of perceiving, relating to and thinking about the environment in oneself that are exhibited in a wide variety of social and personal contexts. Our temperament is the biological genetic template that interacts with our environment. Our character is largely the outcome of the process of socialization, the acts and imprints and edicts of our environment and nurture, and how they work on our psyche during the formative years, 0 to 6 and in other lists. Personality disorders are dysfunctions of our entire identity, tears in the fabric of who we are.

Antisocial Psychopath and Sociopath: Antisocial Personality Disorder

Psychopathy is a personality disorder that is characterized by callousness, ruthlessness, extreme lack of empathy, deficient impulse control, deceitfulness, and sadism. It is frequently ameliorated with age and tends to disappear altogether by the fourth or fifth decade of life. Psychopathy may be hereditary and has a strong genetic, biochemical, and neurological component. Psychopaths are abusively exploitative and incapable of true love and intimacy, and they are irresponsible, unreliable, vindictive, and hold grudges forever.

People are Like Trees: Roots and Obstacles (by Jennifer Howard)

Psychopathologies are adaptive mechanisms that allow individuals to grow around obstacles and reach a functional equilibrium. Humans are a life form that forms personality structures optimally suited to their needs and outside constraints. Personality configurations may be abnormal, but their existence proves they have triumphed in the delicate task of successful adaptation. Life events contribute to the weaving of the delicate fabric that we call personality.

Rorschach's Inkblot Test

The Rorschach Ink Blots Test is a diagnostic tool developed by Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach. The test uses ambiguous ink blots to provoke free associations in the test subject, and the diagnostician records the patient's responses as well as the ink blots' spatial position and orientation. The test is highly subjective and depends on the skills and training of the diagnostician and his interpretative abilities. It cannot be used to reliably diagnose patients, but it can draw attention to the patient's defenses and personal style.

PCL-R (Psychopathy Checklist Revised) Test

The Psychopathy Checklist Revised Test (PCLR) is a structured interview that is used to rate symptoms common among psychopaths in forensic populations. The test is designed to cover the major psychopathic traits and behaviors, but it has very dubious, predictive and retrodictive power. The PCLR is based on a structured interview and collateral data gathered from family, friends, and colleagues and from documents. The hope of the designers of the PCLR test is that information gathered outside the scope of a structured interview will serve to rectify any potential abuse, diagnostic bias, and manipulation by both the testee and the tester.

The Habit of Identity

Habits are reflexive and form part of our identity, but they are not our true identity. Our true identity is our personality, which is a loosely interconnected pattern of reactions to our changing environment. Personality is able to combine, recombine and permute in hundreds of unforeseeable ways, and the constancy of these vicissitudes and changes is what gives us a sense of identity. People with personality disorders cannot change and are incapable of loving and living.

Morally Insane Psychopath: A Brief History of Psychopaths and Antisocials

The concept of personality disorders began less than a hundred years ago, with the French psychiatrist Pinel coining the phrase "mal de son" to describe patients who lacked impulse control and were prone to outbursts of violence. The term "moral insanity" was widely used for almost a century, but physicians sought to replace it with something more objective and scientific. The diagnosis of psychopathy has been expanded to include people who harm and inconvenience themselves, as well as others. Today, most practitioners rely on either the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual or the International Classification of Diseases to diagnose personality disorders.

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