25th Nov 2014
On the Danger of Psychometrics Tests
Psychologists are very keen to put people into boxes. We like to label people – schizophrenic, depressed, anxious. For occupational psychologists we like ENFP, conscientious, emotionally intelligent. Of course, mostly these labels are harmless and may even be useful if they have good reliability and validity.
However, when we use labels such as these we must be mindful that we are creating a reality as much as describing one. And, particularly in the field of career decision making, I think there’s a danger when thinking of ourselves as being a certain way that we are reinforcing ideas which reduce psychological flexibility. By extension, this reduces our capacity to notice and take advantage of opportunities to change.
Freedman and Combs (1996) write:
“Speaking isn’t neutral or passive. Every time we speak, we bring forth a reality. Each time we share words we give legitimacy to the distinctions that those words bring forth.”
Anyone who’s seen the TfL advert will know we tend to see things that confirm what we seek. In career decision making we tend to believe behaviours or judgments which confirm our existing views of ourselves. And we believe psychometric tests which are in any case only modified versions of what we have told ourselves in the first place.
That’s why even very good psychometric tests (and there are lots of very bad ones) need to be held lightly. The unquestioned use of labels and categories can consolidate problems that the client is experiencing and reify something which perhaps did not exist – or half existed in the messy, ambiguous reality of being a human.
Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.