Since the beginning years of personality research, most researchers have frequent recourse to personality ratings as a primary form of data in their empirical studies to assess and examine individual differences in personality characteristics. This immediate mobilization of personality judgments as well as ratings is understandable in most cases because the format mimics the use of trait adjectives and related terms in describing persons in everyday social life. Persons can be known by the impression they make on others as well as the descriptions others render on them. Human observers are sensitive instruments for not only monitoring but also interpreting information about the personality of others.
Psychologists as well as healthcare practitioners use a number of tests to establish the level of well-being of a person. One mode of self-report method in the study of personality is to treat the person as simply another observer and to tap the impressions the person has made on him/her self. However, it is commonly acknowledged that the person has certain forms of privileges or distinctive access to information about their experiences, intentions and motives that is less readily available to the psychologist. Research has shown that self ratings of personality have been used more frequently in the past especially in published studies than informant ratings (Robins et al., 2007, p. 213). Additionally, in appraising the accuracy of personality judgments, self reports seem to be more often employed as a criterion in comparison to informant reports.
Another mode for using self reports is found in personality scales and inventories. The development of the techniques involved in such tests stemmed from the early discovery that self-assertions endorsing widely varied statements about one’s attitudes, beliefs, conduct and interests turned out to have value in assessing individual differences in personality. Examples of the earliest personality inventories are the Woodworth Personal Data Sheet (1917), the Strong Vocational Interest Blank (1927). The Allport-Vernon Study Values (1933) and the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (1943) (Ibid).
For many decades, all the methods have been classified under two categories namely objective and projective. According to Meyer and Kurtz (2006, p. 223), the term ‘objective’, as applied in personality tests, is not suitable as far as the classification of the tests is concerned. This is based on the different capabilities portrayed by different people in indicating the stimuli that best describes their personality. The stimulus in such cases can be adjectives, propositions or questions that describe certain personality traits. The ‘objectivity’ of the test is based on the fact that the psychologist who applies such methods for personality tests does not rely on his/her own judgment in not only classifying but also interpreting the particular response of a given respondent. The bulk of the assessment or rather judgment is left for the respondent. He/she reads the given questions, interprets them to the best of their knowledge and evaluates him/herself based on the way she understands her behavior or personality. One of the assumptions that are made by psychologists who administer this type of tests is that the respondent/informant will convey their judgment in the highest degree of honesty.
The other category of tests normally used by psychologists requires the informant to be actively involved in a given activity that causes them to generate a given response. During the administration of such tests, the respondent acts in a rather independent manner i.e. with little or no external assistance. The ‘projectivity’ , as applied in the type of personality assessment tools refers to the act of generating a given response in a set of defined situations or rather circumstances. The examiner then uses the respondent’s expressions to define their personality (Meyer & Kurtz, 2006, p. 223).
Based on the above descriptions of the terms ‘projective’ and ‘objective’ as used in defining personality assessment tools, Meyer and Kurtz believe that the terms should not be used in the contemporary society. They argue that the terms do not give specific or rather clear meanings of the various personality assessments tests/tools in which they are applied. In terms of accuracy and precision, they believe that the term objective is ambiguous thus can be misleading. Additionally, they believe that they are bias and distorted. Another aspect that they believe necessitates the abolition of such terms in psychology is that the any process that directly influences the informant’s response is flawed by limitations in self-knowledge, projections, self-perception as well as personal dynamics (ibid).
The availability of other terms that adequately reflect the different features of personality assessment tests has become a major concern. The two psychologists, Meyer and Kurtz, believe that the objective tests should be referred to as ‘self-report inventories’ or ‘patient-related questionnaires’ (2006, p. 224). They further argue that the terms should reflect the distinction between knowledgeable informants and those that are not knowledgeable. This can only be achieved by giving specifications about the level of literacy or education of the given respondent. In addition, they propose that personality assessment tests should be classified to reflect the different categories of individuals in any given societal setting. This will call for the development of different types of questionnaires such as student-report questionnaires, parent-related questionnaires and spouse-related questionnaires among others.
Pertaining the use of the term projective in the classification of personality assessment tools, Meyer and Kurtz assert that some of the tools are not necessarily objective or rather do not qualify to be referred to as objective. An example of tests that should not be classified as projective is the Rorschach inkblots because of the number as well as the complexity of scores that it generates. Other types of tests that fall under this category include the Thematic Apperception Test and the Picture Story Exercise stimuli test. One of the challenges that is faced by the contemporary psychologists who want to ban the use of the term projective is that it is rather difficult to come up with a universal term that could be used to reflect the specific aspects of the tests under this category. Some of the proposed terms that could be potential replacements for the term include ‘constructive methods’, behavioral tasks’, implicit methods’, performance tasks’, and ‘free response measures’ among others (Meyer & Kurtz, 2006, p. 224). However, psychologists have not reached a consensus about the term that should be used to classify the personality assessment tests that conventionally are termed as projective.
The claims by Meyer and Kurtz are justified. The objective-projective distinction in referring to different types of tests is well entrenched in the language of psychology and maybe destined to remain so just as other habitual categorizations sometimes outlive their usefulness and become more misleading than informative. This distinction is misleading by virtue of implying that, inasmuch as one of these types of measures is objective, the other type must be subjective. However, at times it is rather difficult to establish the ‘objectivity’ of self-report inventories. This is because in most cases, they are not entirely objective. For instance, the use of terms such as ‘False’ and ‘True’ respond to an item such as “I often get angry” can be ambiguous. However, the absence of specific benchmarks for self-report statements of this kind requires subjective interpretation on the part of the person taking the test (Aizen, 2005, p. 106). How often is “often”, as used in the entry, and what constitutes “getting upset”? Some people who get upset/angry on a daily basis but rarely more once a day may regard their anger arousal as infrequent and respond “False” to the item. On the other hand, some people who lose their temper only once a week but regret doing so may consider themselves to be excessively anger-prone and respond “True” to the item. Similarly, people who shout and scream but do not hit anybody or break anything may not perceive themselves as being angry at the time that answer “False” to the item. On the other hand people who prefer to avoid even raising their voice slightly to anyone may experience themselves as being angry whenever they do so and would respond “True” to the item.
Subjectivity enters into the interpretation of so-called measures as well as into the response process that produces the test data. To be sure, self-report inventories feature extensive array of quantified scale scores having empirically demonstrated behavioral correlates (Aizen, 2005, p. 120; Robins et al., 2007, p. 88). In clinical practice, however, interpretation of these measures typically goes beyond identifying known behaviors of individual scale scores to include consideration of complex patterns of interaction among these scores. Some of these patterns of interactions have been examined empirically and others have not, in which case inferences and conclusions derive from the clinician’s experience and reasoned judgment not from objective data.
The use of the correct terminology is crucial in the advancement of the field of psychology especially in personality assessment tests. Therefore, it is important for the various professionals both in healthcare and in psychology to come up with globally accepted term (s) for classifying the different assessment test. Such an aspect will also be beneficial to healthcare practitioners around the globe as it will boost the level of understanding of the various assessment tests. Meyer and Kurtz have proposed that the if the psychology professionals will not be able to come up with a suitable terminology, tests should not be put under any form of classification (2006, p. 225). The psychologists as well as healthcare and medical practitioners should refer to the different assessment tools by their specific name.
The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MPPI)
The MPPI can serve as an objective, reliable screening instrument for appraising a person’s personality characteristics and symptomatic behavior. The interpretive information available on the MPPI has been widely researched and documented for nearly 70years of clinical as well as psychological use. It is the most frequently administered clinical psychological test in the United States of America. Additionally, it used in more than 45 nations in the world. There are more than 150 translations of the original MPPI. The initial version of the MPPI was rather complicated thus, the test publisher (the University of Minnesota) revised it. This resulted in a simpler form of the MPPI commonly referred to as the MPPI-2. It is one of the easiest personality assessment instruments to use in the clinical practice because it requires little professional time to administer and score. However, the interpretation requires a lot of care, skills and experience of a well-trained practitioner.
One of the scales within this tool seeks to establish the various aspects of the historical background of an individual: Scale 5 also referred to as the Masculinity-Feminity (Mf) scale. It consists of 56 items that deal with interests, vocational voices, aesthetic preferences, and activity-passivity (Butcher & Perry, 2008, p. 85). It applies for both sexes but it is scored the opposite direction for females. The Mf scale is highly correlated with education, intelligence and social class. Correlates for high Mf scores in males include sensitivity in an interpersonal situation, insecurity in male roles, broad cultural interests and passivity in interpersonal relationships. On the other hand, low Mf males are viewed as presenting an overly masculine image, somewhat in interests, insensitive in interpersonal relationships and more interested in action than reflection. Correlates of high Mf scores for females suggest rejection and traditional female roles, preference to male-oriented activities, and interpersonal insensitivity (Butcher & Perry, 2008, p 90). Low Mf score for females are viewed as more traditional in interests and somewhat passive and independent in relationships.
Scale 6: Paranoia (Pa) is essential in assessing the need for serious intervention in an individual. It consists of 40 items with both blatantly psychotic items such as ‘I believe that other people are plotting against me’ and very subtle items such as ‘I believe that I am more sensitive than most people I know’. It measure psychological processes such as interpersonal sensitivity, proclamation of high moral virtue, having feelings that are easily hurt, denial of suspiciousness, complaints about the shortcomings of others (cynicism) and excessive rationality. Scale 7:Psychasthenia (Pt) also functions in a similar manner as Pa. It was designed as an aid in diagnosing the neurotic syndrome psychasthenia or the obsessive-compulsive syndrome. The syndrome psychasthenia is not at present a part of the psychiatric nomenclature but personality features measured by this scale namely obsessions, compulsion, anxiety and worrying, unreasonable fears, and guilt feelings appear in many other psychiatric disorders. The scale is of great help in indication if someone is suffering from anxiety, tension, ruminative self-doubt as well as maladjustment (Butcher & Perry, 2008, p. 98). It consists of 48 items that deal with symptoms relating to anxiety, irrational fears, low self-esteem and self-devaluation.
Another notable aspect of the MPPI-2 is Scale 0: Social Introversion (Si). It comprises of 69 items and it is designed to measure uneasiness in social situations, social insecurity and self-depreciation, denial of impulses and temptations, and withdrawal from interpersonal contacts. It is a useful measure of an individual’s ease or rather comfort in any given social setting. Additionally, it serves as an effective measure of the inhibition or expression of aggressive impulses (Strack, 2005, p. 102; Butcher & Perry, 2008, p. 75). The scale operates as a suppressor scale in studies of delinquency. Elevation of the values in this scale is associated with low rates of delinquency. Correlates for high scores include shy, socially withdrawn, reserved in social situations, unassertive, over-controlled and submissive in relationships. Individuals with low scores for this particular scale tend to be extroverted, outgoing, manipulative in social relationships, gregarious and talkative. The MPPI-2 is a comprehensive personal assessment tool.
Aizen, I. (2005). Attitudes, Personality and Behavior. (2nd Ed.) Berkshire, GBR: McGraw-Hill.
Butcher, J., & Perry, J. (2008). Personality Assessment in Treatment Planning: Use of the MPPI-
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Meyer, G. J., & Kurtz, J. E. (2006). Advancing Personality Assessment Terminology: Time to
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