Personality Testing

By Dr. Monique Marie Chouraeshkenazi  Photo Source: Barbara Chuchu

By Dr. Monique Marie Chouraeshkenazi

Photo Source: Barbara Chuchu

Personality traits and characteristics sums up an individual’s persona, behavior, and other internal temperament mechanisms. As many terminology, the concept of what constitutes one’s personality has various meanings. For example, Aiken and Groth Marnat (2006) defines personality as the measurability of differences that can be compared to other individuals’ characteristics. The authors believe personality is based on the following: 

  • Socially constructed descriptions 

  • Is enduring

  • Is expressed in a wide number of situations

  • Allows predication of behaviors, feelings, and interactions

  • Has related characteristics

  • Is motivational (Aiken & Groth-Marnat, 2006, p. 321). 

Focusing on personality characteristics that are “expressed in a wide number situations,” this perspective is based on forensic psychology and the appropriate testing tools for psychologists to utilize for assessment and evaluation for a competency trial hearing. 

        The Rorschach Inkblot Test is a well-known psychological testing tool used to understand one’s thoughts and motives. Many TV shows have used this tool to portray one’s psychological temperament and behaviors. For instance, the first time I saw the test referenced on TV was the Golden Girls. Sophia Petrillo wanted to join the convent to be a nun and one of the requirements was a follow-up interview. The nun stated that they would put Sophia through a series of psychological tests to “weed out the crazies and undesirables.” She made a point to state that it is a standard test used by psychologists, yet they find it useful within the nunnery (if anyone is interested to see the clip, click here). 

            The inkblot test is considered a projective psychologist test, which is predicated on individuals responding to ambiguous images, words, and scenes (Cherry, 2018a). Hermann Rorschach created this test to examine emotional and personality performance and is the second most used tests in terms of forensic psychological evaluations. According to Cherry (2017), Rorschach’s test was used by over 400 clinical psychologists within the American Psychological Association. The test consists of black, white, and/or gray images and are used by psychologists are who trained to understand, interpret, and analyze not only the tests, but the results from patients/participants. The purpose of the test is for participants to interpret what they see based on the image and are free to do so. The psychologist observes the participant’s responses and considers whether the entire image has been analyzed. 

            Though the inkblot test has been heavily used within the psychological fields, there are some criticism behind the technique. Because there is not consistency or standardization behind the assessment, it would be difficult to consider if it is a valid, reliable, and credible tool to use in a competency hearing. In the early 1960s, the test was criticized for “lack of standardized procedures, scoring methods, and norms” (Cherry, 2017, para. 12). Because there was not a standardized methodology behind the testing procedures, there was a result of multiple versions and scoring schemes that had to be revised by many experts since its inceptions. Additionally, there is controversial on whether the inkblot testing is suitable to identify psychological disorders and illnesses. Psychologist Lilienfeld, Wood, Netsworski, and Garb (2003) conducted a comprehensive review of Rorschach’s test to support the controversial dispute. The researchers found insufficient information on scoring reliability, validity, errors within the testing protocol (i.e. outdated questions, techniques, and insufficient scientific information to support). Grove and Barden (1999) stated that the Rorschach test should not be used or be found admissible in court hearings due to conflicting information and errors that have been found with initiating the assessment. I also agree and believe that these tests should be used in exercises with psychologists and their patients. You are right on the money; tests that can be subjective in natural should not be used as evidence in any type of court hearing. Finally, there is contradicting research on whether Rorschach wanted his tests to be used as projective psychological testing because it was initially established for profiling purposes, not identifying psychological disorders. 

        Like, the Inkblot Test, the Thematic Apperception test (TAT) is another projective psychological assessment that is based on interpreting images and is widely used. The distinguishing elements of the testing is that instead of participants stating what they see in an image, TAT involves a little more involvement. Participants are to look at the image and what is going on within the scene. As Rorschach wanted to profile individuals, TAT’s purpose is to understand one’s thought process through the explanations of the image (i.e. storytelling). Participants are required to give more information about what is happening before, during, and after (what is projected in their minds about the image) to tell a story. The test focuses on themes related to behavior, violence, moods, relationships, and other characteristics related to one’s personality and behavior (Cherry, 2018b). The test is based on the following:

  • Helps people express how they feel 

  • Explores themes that are relatable to people’s lives 

  • Learn more about a person

  • Assess psychological conditions 

  • Used as a forensic tool

  • Used as a career assessment tool (Cherry, 2018b, paras. 8-13). 

The controversy behind TAT is parallel to the criticisms of the Inkblot Test: reliability and validity. The same concerns refer to the scoring and standardization processes, which would not make such tests reliable in a competency hearing for an individual to stand trial. Additionally, some experts find that TAT’s scoring system is difficult to interpret and compare to other factors that would be predicated on test results. Cherry (2018b) states that experts avoid using the scoring system and use their own interpretation and clinical assessments to provide information about their patients/participants. 

Projective assessments are useful for mental health professionals to gain insight on their patients. For example, if an individual visits a psychologist for the first time (for any issue), I believe the professional would like to gain clarity on the person's background, how he/she perceives things, and understand their thought-processes and emotions. Having an understanding of an individual's thought-process in the beginning, experts can guide their sessions better, understand triggers, and can gain comprehensive knowledge on the person. As I mentioned before, I believe such tests would a great additive to other diagnostic tests to prove disorders and disabilities. Cherry (2018) states that experts find projective assessments as a great tool in conjunction with other tests for diagnosis. I believe the same perception can be used for the workplace. Industrial psychologists can use these tests to better understand employees within the workplace when it comes to culture, diversity, and cohesive efforts for employees to work together. Such tests can give fundamental knowledge of an individual in terms of emotions, social capabilities, intellectual abilities, and so forth.

There is a high sensitivity towards projective testing assessments and should be used at discretion. Meaning, if forensic experts are going to use projective assessments to establish competency within a trial hearing, there should be additional evidence to support their theory on individual’s psychological standing. This type of testing should not be the sole source for determining psychological capacity in a court case (in my opinion). According to McCann (1998), primary psychological tests that are used in legal cases are the Federal Rules of Evidence, the Frye test, and the Daubert standard. Such tests have a significant standing with the court system and even jurors. If a credible psychological expert takes the witness stand and gives a profound analysis of the testing, along with damming evidence, it would significantly impact someone’s future between freedom or behind bars (if a serious crime has been committed). Erickson, Lilienfeld, and Vitacco (2007) state psychological testing can vary significantly based on suitability and that projective assessments do not have sufficient scientific merit for evaluations within court proceedings. . Ashton (2013) stated the projective assessment scoring system is a "is complex and painstaking, and levels of test–retest reliability and interrater reliability are frequently rather low" (para. 1). Also, I found that scoring system software programs were established for those who are using the test to enter data and the results are interpreted. It is called the Rorschach Interpretation Assistance Program, which provides "computer- generated quantitative data and narrative statements that are based on the Comprehensive System" (Exner & Weiner, 2003, para. 1). Based on the analysis such tests provide, there should be alternative methods or additives to substantiate findings on personality assessments.


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Dr. Monique Chouraeshkenazi