Monday, 13 October 2008

A personality test that can't be faked

Aspects of personality can be even more important than IQ when it comes to predicting workplace performance and academic success. If you're conscientious and emotionally stable, you're likely to be a better employee or a more successful student than someone who is lazy and unstable. The trouble for university selectors or company recruiters is that personality tests can be easily faked...until now. Psychologists in Canada think they've found a way to measure the Big Five factors of personality that is less vulnerable to faking.

Jacob Hirsh and Jordan Paterson asked 205 undergrads to complete both the standard Big Five Inventory and their newly designed "relative-scored" personality questionnaire.

The new test taps into the Big Five factors of personality but instead of asking respondents to rate how highly they agree with a set of descriptions about themselves, it forces them to choose between pairs of competing statements. For example, a participant might have to choose between "I rarely get irritated" versus "I am full of ideas". This means participants can't paint themselves as all round wonder-candidates - they have to sacrifice some positive attributes at the expense of others.

Crucially, half the students were asked to complete the tests honestly, while the other half were asked to fake them - as if they were trying to present the best impression possible.

When the tests were answered honestly, both of them predicted the participants' final school exam performance (their "grade point average") and their self-reported creative achievements. However, when the tests were deliberately faked, only scores on the newly designed test predicted exam and creative success.

"The massive variability in productivity typically obtaining between individuals means that even the moderate improvements in predictive validity potentially gained from the new questionnaire could have large economic benefits when used in real world selection procedures," the researchers said.

The new test also provides some intriguing clues about people's faking strategies. It showed that students tended to sacrifice their scores on agreeableness in order to present themselves as more conscientious. The researchers plan to test whether this will change in different circumstances or with different participants.
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ResearchBlogging.orgJ HIRSH, J PETERSON (2008). Predicting creativity and academic success with a “Fake-Proof” measure of the Big Five Journal of Research in Personality, 42 (5), 1323-1333 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2008.04.006

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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