In the early 19th century, when astronomers timed the passage of stars overhead, they noticed that they all came up with different results. They chalked these individual differences up to differences in what they called the “personality” of the eye. Even as far back as the mid-1800’s, distinguished scholars were championing the whole person as a unit of study. From that point forward, individual psychologists began to conceptualize personality and behavior differently.
Sir Fancis Galton (1822-1911)
Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911) may properly be called the first practitioner of psychological testing. It has been said that he originated mental tests, and assumed that intelligence could be measured in terms of a person’s level of sensory capacity-the higher the intelligence, the higher the level of sensory discrimination. Galton also began a long line of research on mental imagery, much of which included the first extensive use of the psychological questionnaire.
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
For Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), founder of the psychoanalytic movement, personality consisted of; the ID, the Ego and the Superego, all of which he believed guide our behavior to an extent. During the 1920’s, psychoanalysis developed as a theoretical system for understanding all of human motivation and personality, not just a treatment for the mentally disturbed.
William James (1842-1910)
William James (1842-1910), often considered the greatest American psychologist, argued that human behavior was the result of hereditary, habits and/or instincts. Still considered a major contribution to psychology, The Principles of Psychology was published in 1890, to both acclaim and condemnation, yet remains one of the most widely read books in the field.
James Mckeen Cattell (1860-1944)
A contemporary of William James, James McKeen Cattell (1860-1944) is credited with influencing the movement in American psychology toward a more practical, test-oriented approach to the study of mental processes. The theme of all his research was the problem of individual difference.
Alfred Binet (1857-1911)
Although it was Cattell who coined the term “mental test,” it was Alfred Binet (1857-1911) who developed the first truly psychological test of mental ability in 1905 to predict school performance. That test is still in use today as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale.
John b. Watson (1878-1958)
At the same time, John B. Watson (1878-1958) was founding a new trend in psychology-the behaviorist movement. Although he began his career with the study of animal behavior, he ended it by studying consumer-buying behavior. Watson exerted a major impact on advertising in the U.S. through the application of behaviorist principles, which can still be easily seen and heard in commercials and ads today.
Carl Jung (1875-1961)
Although once heralded by Freud as the heir apparent to the psychoanalytic movement, Carl Jung (1875-1961) came to differ with Freud on the direction of the forces that influence the human personality. Jung believed that our behavior was not exclusively shaped by our past childhood experiences, but by our future hopes, goals and aspirations as well.
B.F. Skinner (1904-1990)
Behaviorist B. F. Skinner (1904-1990) argued that all behavior, except verbal behavior, was merely the correlation between a stimulus and a response. He developed a program for behavioral control of societies, and more than anyone else is responsible for the large-scale use of teaching machines and techniques of behavior modification.
Prior to World War I only limited attempts had been made to measure personality. For example, in the late 19th century, a German psychiatrist had used what he called a “free-association” test, in which patients responded to stimulus words with the first word that came to mind.
During World War I, the U.S. army wanted to know which of its recruits were highly neurotic. Psychologist Robert Woodworth constructed the “Personal Data Sheet,” a self-report instrument that asked recruits to indicate the neurotic that traits applied to them. Although the Personal Data Sheet saw little use during the war, it was the prototype for much of the personality profiling currently in use.
Raymond b. Cattell (1905-1998)
Then in 1950, Raymond B. Cattell (1905-1998) suggested that the central problem in personality psychology was the prediction of behavior. Cattell argued that traits were the central variables in personality and could be divided into three general categories; dynamic traits-those that set an individual into action to accomplish a goal; ability traits-which concern the individual’s effectiveness in reaching a goal; and temperament traits-which were the stylistic aspects, like dispositions, moods, and emotions.
Ground breaking work was done during the 1960’s by Dr. Robert Guion in the field of personality testing within the workplace, much of which is reflected in his book Personnel Testing (McGraw-Hill 1965). Dr. Guion focused on testing candidates for employment as a basis for predicting their probable “fit” in the workplace.
During the 1970’s personality testing became increasingly accepted as an invaluable resource to many employers when selecting employees for hire or promotion. Unfortunately, due to the costs typically associated with these instruments and their administration, the use of personality testing instruments was limited to larger organizations and usually only for upper management or key positions.
David p. Pearson 1927-present
In 1978 Dr. David Pearson became one of the first in his field to produce a software program that could perform a behavioral evaluation of an individual, without requiring the administration by or assistance of a psychologist or behavioral scientist. Since their development, evaluations of this type have proven to be invaluable to thousands of organizations world wide when selecting employees for hire or promotion.
Today, everyone from psychologists, counselors, teachers and human resource managers in government, education and industry, uses psychological or educational evaluations. There is scarcely a person over the age of ten who has not taken at least one such test in their lifetime, whether it was an achievement test, an IQ test, a personality evaluation, or a measure of aptitude in a particular field. The key reason for the increase in test use over the last 75 years is that ethically correct tests are more reliable and accurate than subjective judgments, which often function as filters when we assess and observe others.
This very human habit was considered by William James back in 1860, in a frequently quoted passage from The Principles of Psychology. “You see the little lines of cleavage running through the character, the tricks of thought, the prejudices, the ways of the “shop,” in a word, from which the man can by-and-by no more escape than his coat-sleeve can suddenly fall into a new set of folds” (pg. 79). Even the best interviewer can fall prey to unconscious biases, personal beliefs, stereotypes and other distractions that leave objectivity subject to error. Well-developed tests can help even the most experienced and knowledgeable hiring professional construct a fairer and more accurate picture of an individual, increasing the likelihood that they will hire the right person for the job.
But testing should never be used in a vacuum. As Robert Guion says, “Testing should not be the instrument of decision. It should be used as a flag that either agrees with or contradicts your impression about a person.” At MindData we agree that tests can never replace professional judgment entirely. Rather, they should serve as one source of information to assist in making accurate and fair decisions when hiring and promoting.