Psychological assessment and theory creating and using psychological tests
Chapter 1 - Introduction
This book is structured in a way that enables the reader to grasp the simplest and most complex issues of testing. It is roughly divided in three sections: principles, issues and applications.
We use tests in order to measure certain behaviour and give it a quantitative value; we also gain a better understanding of the behaviour, which further gives us an opportunity to predict behaviour. The measures or test scores we obtain are never perfect, though they greatly help the prediction process. Tests consist of items, which represent stimuli - questions/problems that need to be worked on in the test.
When we want to measure some features of human behaviour we use psychological testing. Make a distinction between different types of behaviours such as overt behaviour which is observable and covert behaviour which is intrinsic and not that obvious (e.g. thoughts).
Be careful when interpreting the scores a test is measuring – the meaning of the scores is subject to change depending on how we define the scoring results. In order to avoid interpretation problems we use scales – which cluster bare scores into distributions that are more specific.
Since tests measure a variety of behaviours, there are many test variations in use. Individual test – only one person at a time receives the test. Group test – more people at a time receive the same test (high school class exams).
Ability tests –speed, accuracy or both are being measured. The three types of ability measured are: achievement that is based on the previous successes, aptitude concerned with the potential to master a skill, and intelligence referring to someone’s general capacity to solve and adapt to problems, think abstractly, and benefit from experience. These three constructs often interact with each other.
Personality tests – overt and covert behaviours are being measures, more specifically a person’s typical behaviour. General distinction is made between structured-objective and unstructured –projective personality tests. Structured tests are those for which you for example need to tick a box and state true or false, while Rorschach is a projective test for which an individual is asked to interpret a stimulus that is rather ambiguous.
Main use of psychological testing is to compare individuals and draw conclusions about these differences (if possible).
The tests we encounter nowadays were most likely developed during the past 100 years, even though the origins of testing can be traced back to more than 4 millennia ago in China where oral examination was used to asses promotion issues and evaluate work.
Test batteries represent the use of two or more tests at once and they were common during the Han Dynasty. The Western world most likely got familiar with testing via the Chinese.
Charles Darwin’s contribution to testing culture was an indirect one. Sir Francis Galton, Darwin’s relative, used the evolutionary theory proposed by Darwin to study humans. If the fittest ones survive and we all differ from one another, then some people must have certain characteristics that make them fitter than the rest, Galton argued.
His most valuable work was that he exposed existence of the individual differences in sensory and motor functioning that are the cornerstone of modern scientific psychology. Cattell took this work further and introduced mental tests.
Another stream of thoughts set ground for experimental psychology with Herbart, Fechner, Weber and Wundt whose works were theoretically more relevant and led to the understanding of the great importance of testing control and standardization.
The modern tests of today however, originate from the arising need to test those who were emotionally and mentally impaired. In order to provide those individuals with adequate education the need for further test development was necessary. Alfred Binet is a name associated with the emergence of first general intelligence test. The Binet-Simon scale consisted of 30 items and the results were compared with the standardized sample. He was aware of the significance of standardization of tests, though the sample taken for comparison was not necessarily the accurate one. Take for example 100 Asian girls from poor families as a standardization sample and use test results of an African American adult man from a rich family – the comparison is of no use in this case.
This led to the emergence of the representative sample that is needed to compare the person being tested to people similar to him/her in order to get useful test outcomes.
The Binet-Simon scale was revised several times and the standardization sample increased over time, even more importantly the term mental age was introduced bringing attention to the importance of the measurement of child’s performance compared to its own specific age group. This term brings across the idea of the difference between child’s chronological age (let us say 8) and mental age (let us say 6 - meaning that this child is 8 but performs as an average 6 year old). It was highly criticized for its focus on verbal and language skills.
World War I contributed to the growth of testing demands due to the emerging need to evaluate military recruits. Since the Binet scale was an individual test, a need for mass testing arose during this time, leading to the development of two structured group tests called Army Alfa – which required literacy and Army Beta – which did not.
Another development that followed was the emergence of achievement testing which consisted of multiply choice questions that had a large standardized sample as a norm against which one could compare the results. They are easy to administer and less biased subjectivity-wise.
Furthermore, the Wechsler-Bellevue Intelligence Scale (W-B) won an innovation in intelligence testing now giving the opportunity to test multiply abilities and their combinations in an individual. No need for verbal ability in order to assess the performance (non-verbal scale inclusion).
Personality testing is associated with measuring traits. Traits represent (partly) stable dispositions that can be used to differentiate between people. Optimists tend to remain optimistic even during harsh times. The Woodworth Personal Data Sheet is the first structured personality test that was developed during World War I. The test included items such as: “Do you wet the bed?” – “yes” or “no” and the responses were taken for granted, meaning that dishonesty and personal interpretation of the question were disregarded. Personality tests were harshly criticized and almost disappeared from use by the late 1940s.
Projective tests emerged at around the same time and in addition to the ambiguous stimulus they also provide very vague responses. An example is the Rorschach inkblot test, which provided the subject with an ambiguously looking ink drawing and asked for a rough interpretation of the same. A similar approach to testing was developed in the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) where the individual was asked to make up a story based on a presented photograph. This way the TAT is supposed to assess human needs and motivations.
Projective tests became popular during the time personality tests were disregarded. Over time, projective tests have failed to prove solid psychometric properties. The need for empirical methods to construct tests was growing and structured personality tests such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) emerged. The authors claimed that the meaning of tests responses had to be explained using empirical methods. This is the most widely used test of the present.
The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire, introduced by R.B.Cattel uses factor analysis as a way to find the minimum number of characteristics (dimensions) or factors to represent a large number of variables (this was the main issue with previous personality tests such as Woodworth - too many assumptions to be investigated). It is still widely used.
With the process of test development many applied areas of psychology developed. Tests remain a controversial issue, nevertheless all psychological areas depend on them greatly.
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This summary consists of book chapters 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17 and 18
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