Effectiveness of Personality Tests on Indigenous People

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 8 January 2017

Effectiveness of Personality Tests on Indigenous People

Abstract This review seeks to evaluate the effectiveness of the standard personality tests on indigenous people. The two indigenous groups focused on are Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians. Several academic sources have been researched when creating this review. What was surprisingly discovered was the overwhelming evidence that presented a bias point of view outlining mainly the inappropriateness of personality tests. Introduction The term ‘inappropriate’ is universally defined as “not suitable or proper in the circumstances” (Brown, Robert T.;Reynolds 1999).

Most standard personality tests among researchers are considered to be inappropriate for use with Aboriginal people in Australia and for Native Americans in the USA. (Brown, Robert T. ;Reynolds 1999). The following psychological assessment tests can be generally misleading to indigenous Australians and Native Americans which include: MMPI-2 (Abel 1973), The Westerman Aboriginal Checklist—Youth (WASC-Y), DSM IV-TR, ICD10, the ‘Who Am I’ test and the High school adolescent Clinical Inventory(Westerman 1997). Indigenous Austrlian – Test Review.

The Australian Psychological Society has set guidelines for the conduct of psychological research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia. One of which outlines that psychologists should take into account ethnicity and culture when making professional judgements with indigenous clients (N. D 1995). However, Tracy Westerman, psychologist and Managing Director of Indigenous Psychological Services(IPS) says the standard personality tests in Australia are subject to cultural bias and are a key reason why the tests are considered inappropriate for indigenous Australians(Westerman 1997).

Consequently, indigenous Australians are unfairly penalized as they don’t experience the same culture as the dominant society (Westerman 1997). As a result, these indigenous Australians are inaccurately assessed which leads to an inaccurate diagnostic decision (Vicary 2003). One way personality tests are considered inappropriate for indigenous Australians are the content provided within the tests. The test content may have high cultural loading, in which a given test requires specific knowledge or experience with mainstream culture (Vicary 2003).

For example, certain phrases or words used in certain tests are a disadvantage indigenous Australians. The meaning or unfamiliarity of the terminology used presents problems with the validity of such tests such as misinterpretation (Vicary 2003). For example, Westernman explains that a “suicide does not mean that someone has killed themselves” in the Aboriginal community. It means that they were cursed (Vicary 2003). Aboriginal people also do not speak English as a native language and therefore will have difficulty comprehending the wording of the test.

For those reasons mentioned, MMPI-2 has been criticized by psychologists for its validity when examining diverse cultural groups(Wettinger, M). Westerman & Wettinger (1997) state that the norms of testing indigenous Australians ‘have been described as out-dated’ and need to be replaced. Westerman has pointed out that a more practical approach should be undertaken when assessing aboriginal people as it is culturally acceptable for Aboriginal people to learn verbally(Westerman 1997). For example, when working with aboriginal children, oral tests and drawings are a useful means of testing as they allow children to tell stories.

This is a culturally acceptable way for Aboriginal children pass on information and important messages. The Westerman Aboriginal checklist – Youth(WASC-Y) has implemented more effective methods of testing indigenous Australians. The WASC-Y is aimed at identifying early detection of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and suicidal behaviours for Aboriginal youths aged 13-17 (Pearson 2010). A prominent strength of the test is it does not require written competencies or numeracy skills, and is orally administered (Pearson 2010).

Only an experienced psychologist who is skilled in dealing with indigenous Australians can administer the test(Pearson 2010). Although the WASC-Y has been claimed to be reliable when used to assess applicants for job positions or training programmes, companies are not enforced to use this test which is a barrier for indigenous Australians(Pearson 2010) Another major issue when considering the appropriateness of personality tests is examining whether or not the professional clinicians conducting the tests are “cross culturally competent”( Riggs, D 2004).

The lack of cultural competence in past practice has been a contributing factor to the overall failure of systems of care for Aboriginal and Torres Islander Strait people (Brown, 2001; Garvey, 2007; Riggs, 2004). When utilizing standard measures, clinicians confirm to assumptions that the client is similar to the standardized population(Riggs, D 2004). This assumption is inappropriate when assessing a client from an indigenous culture. For example, Aboriginal people may not be familiar with test taking skills performed by dominant society which may also contribute to their poor performance in the test(Riggs, D 2004).

Not understanding the impact of the indigenous clients cultural background could lead to inaccurate results and analysis by the clinician. It is considered the responsibility of the clinician to learn as much as possible about the client’s culture and to acknowledge any biases or prejudices they may have about the clients ethnic group(Dudgeon, P 2010). Furthermore, it is also the clinician’s responsibility to understand any historical issues relevant to Aboriginal people which may impact their lack of motivation and performance when being tested.

Factors which cause this impact may include poverty, unemployment and limited educational opportunities(Dudgeon, P 2010). During the meetings between the clinicians and their indigenous clients, the clinicians should establish rapport, respect, and a therapeutic relationship with their clients(Westerman 1997). Rapport and communication problems may also exist between the clinician and the indigenous client due to different cultural backgrounds. As a result, the difficulties in rapport and communication may slow down the Aboriginals client’s ability respond to test items (Vicary 2003).

For example, Westerman (1997) states that traditional psychological testing using the “question and answer” format in one on one situations presents difficulties amongst indigenous children and adults(Westerman 1997). This is because in some Aboriginal cultures, it is considered impolite to ask a question to someone who doesn’t know the answer (Westerman 1997). It is also beneficial to build rapport with indigenous clients to eliminate the ‘notion of whiteness’(Riggs 2004). This is the skeptisicm that may arise in the Aboriginal community due to the past actions of dominant society which may include taking of land or the stolen generation.

Aboriginal clients may have a possible barrier of distrust toward the clinician which may be a apparent in the aboriginal community. This level of distrust may stem from any negative experiences the Aboriginal client has experienced in dominant society such as racism in their residential school or community(Riggs 2004). Indigenous American – Test Review Personality assessment services have also been considered culturally inappropriate for Native Americans living in the United States(Brown, Robert T. ;Reynolds, Cecil R. ;Whitaker, Jean S 1999). These assessments include globally recognized tests such as the MMPI and WAIS.

Native Americans are said to face potential bias stemming from inappropriate test content, differential predictive validity, and bias introduced by language differences and social consequences due to labelling and prejudice (kaufman and Renolds 1983). A lack of knowledge for both the Native client and clinician increases the difficulties in finding a reliable accurate outcome of an assessment(Fuchs, D. , & Young 2006). Clinicians are accused of not having enough historical knowledge about Native Americans while at the same time they assume that their Native American clients are culturally aware of how Western society operates(Fuchs, D., & Young 2006).

This assumption will cause difficulties for the clinician to assess a person from another culture with fairness and objectivity(Fuchs, D. , & Young 2006). Psychologists in the USA have emphasised on an emic approach towards assessing Native Americans(Fuchs, D. , & Young 2006). This means that only psychologists who specialize in studying and examining one particular culture would be allowed to assess that culture. It is agreed the assessor needs to build solid relationship with Native American clients while conducting an assessment(Abel 1973).

This will help shape the clients expectations for the assessment interaction and possible outcomes of assessment(Abel 1973). Native Americans are said to be motivated by human value and approval rather than bureaucratic protocol. This means that structured formal situations between the assessors and the Native American client can be perceived as gratuitous and annoying to the client(Abel 1973). The relationships should be informal, based on respect and understanding, and continuous overtime (Abel 1973).

In conclusion, it is evident that a culture clash between indigenous and western cultures is a major issue when performing psychological tests. While most tests gathered in this review deems psychological testing to be inappropriate, there are other tests such as the WASC-Y that specialize in understanding clients from diverse cultures which would be deemed more appropriate for use. It is also important to consider how much funding is being placed by governing bodies to develop more appropriate assessments for indigenous people.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 8 January 2017

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