The Shu-Ha-Ri of Personality Testing

what is psychometric testing personality
/ by Good&Co Team

Personality testing has been around for a long time: in its modern form, about a hundred years; in any form, more than two millennia. Humans love to classify things, including themselves. personality testingWe may complain about The Man trying to put us in a box, we may reject labels and designations as a dehumanizing threat, but at the end of the day, we can’t get away from the convenience of them.

Often times, less is more.

Imagine trying to explain your job, your political leanings or your spiritual beliefs without being able to use labels, generalizations, or simplifications. A casual question asked by a stranger on a long-haul flight would result in a monologue tedious, it would likely cause your conversation partner to slowly wither away and die.

For this reason, we take a reductionist approach: we free up our brain’s CPU (and spare the sanity of the people around us) by simplifying everything with labels. For example, when we want to convey that we’re in the state of being concerned primarily with our own thoughts and feelings rather than with our external environment, we just say, ‘I’m an introvert’. It’s easier, and everyone knows what we mean. Sometimes, less is more.

For thousands of years, we have been using such monikers to describe ourselves and others. Over time, our scientific understanding of the true meaning behind these labels has evolved dramatically. For the most part, we humans are fairly good at categorizing people and their personalities—after all, our brains are more capable of problem-solving than any other species on earth. While the methods by which we describe and validate our models through science have evolved enormously, the way in which we as fellow humans intuitively understand personality has changed very little.

psychometric testingMost models of personality are therefore quite similar. They approach the question in different ways, through psychometric assessment (the ‘lexical’ approach), but also through social and developmental psychology, behavioral genetics, neuroscience, and psychophysiology.

Here’s the catch: no single method gives us the whole picture; we need converging evidence from all of them to construct a truly meaningful model of how personality works.

That’s where the shu-ha-ri approach comes into play.

Good&Co’s psychometric model and personality testing process are both extremely similar to, yet substantially different from, other models of its kind. In developing our model, we began by blending the stylistic aspects of popular psychometric tests used in the field with the scientific integrity of the most rigorously researched models in academic psychology.

Translation: instead of reinventing the wheel, our goal was to smooth it out a bit, while adding a few extra spokes!

Shu (守)

A foundation built upon traditional wisdom

The first step in developing the Good&Co assessment was to ensure that our fun and engaging quizzes worked as effectively as the academic gold standard.personality testing

Over many decades, scientific understanding of personality has led us to the notion that human personality can be described in five broad, minimally overlapping factors, also known as the Big Five. This model is supported not only by psychometrics and statistical validation, but by genetics and neuroscience; it is the standard assessment used in scientific research, and increasingly leading the pack in personality testing for recruitment, career development, and other practical purposes.

The traits measured by the ‘Big Five’ model are often remembered using the acronym OCEAN:

  • Openness to experience — encompassing creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness
  • Conscientiousness — encompassing efficiency, dutifulness, and attention to detail
  • Extraversion — encompassing sociability and confidence
  • Agreeableness — encompassing respect for others and accommodation to their needs
  • Neuroticism — encompassing emotional instability and insecurity.

We tested Good&Co’s quirky questions against benchmarks from standard psychometric ‘Big 5’ tests in several ways. We used statistical techniques such as correlation, principle components analysis and logistic regression to ensure our questions performed well against the benchmarks, that the questions were valid and reliable, that the underlying model hung together, and that our factors between them covered as much variance (that is, differences between people) as the standard assessments.

The results surprised us. After tossing out the questions which didn’t work, refining others, and tweaking our model based on our findings, we discovered that our model did not account for the same amount of variance between our test-takers as the ‘Big 5’—it accounted for more.

By blending psychometrics with biological psychology and field research, we stumbled upon eight factors of personality.

Somehow, our fun and engaging questions were tapping into elements of personality not covered by the most popular scientific assessments!

We found that even among psychometricians, there had been recent mutterings that five factors just wasn’t enough. We agreed. After all, by blending psychometrics with biological psychology and field research, we had discovered eight factors.

Ha (破)

Breaking from tradition

Initially, we had no intention of trying to fix what wasn’t broken. However, it was necessary to take a step back from the scientific literature and evaluate what we had; to detach from some of the preconceptions. Taking an open-minded approach to psychometrics and subverting form while retaining function has become Good&Co’s hallmark: our goal has always been to preserve scientific integrity without boring people to death. As well as finding more underlying factors of personality than expected, we discovered that a substantial number of our questions performed better than the traditional benchmarks.

At Good&Co, our goal has always been to preserve scientific integrity without boring people to death.

The scientific literature of psychometrics, personality testing, and psychological assessment provided evidence consistent with our own findings. The ‘Big 5’ assessments, which are focused on the mainstream fundamentals of personality and nothing more, seemed to be missing some important elements.

The ‘Dark Triad’

One of these elements is the so-called Dark Triad—traits associated with psychopathy. Modern research understands psychopathic traits not as a rare disorder, but as another dimension of personality, relating to emotional intelligence, empathy, and power-seeking.

Self-Directedness and Self-Transcendence

Two other elements of personality which emerge strongly from psychobiology yet are often overlooked in pure psychometric models are self-directedness and self-transcendence. These traits go beyond personality in the sense that they are less hardwired, more malleable—they grow with us throughout our lives, but can still be measured in a stable way at any given time.

Motivation and Drive

Finally, based on evidence from applied psychology, we determined that both motivation and drive are key in developing a full profile of personality and predicted behavior —not just how much we are driven, but the nature of that which drives us.

Incorporating these elements into our model turned the OCEAN fizzy—in fact, it gave us OCEANADE:

  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism
  • Authority
  • Drive
  • Empathy / Emotional Intelligence

Through our ongoing iterations of development and validation, we strove for Rito be unhindered while not overstepping laws.

Ri (離)

Finally, transcendence.

Our resulting model has several advantages over standard psychometric assessments, which improve engagement for the user while retaining, and in some cases adding to, scientific integrity. By taking this approach, our psychometricians succeeded in creating a groundbreaking personality assessment.

So, how do Good&Co’s quizzes differ from traditional personality testing methods?

Our quizzes are brief and fun.

Let’s face it: many times, less is more. When faced with a long, boring survey, people tend to give up halfway through and start returning nonsense answers, if they answer at all. Our questions are designed to keep people engaged throughout the process. Not only is the full assessment delivered in in bitesize chunks, but we also provide feedback. Our own findings, as well as academic research, shows that survey takers love feedback – it puts control back into the hands of the test taker, making them feel less like a lab rat.

Good&Co offers a wider breadth.

As discussed at length (you may be thinking, too much length) above, we assess not six, not seven, but eight whole factors of personality. Not only can we tell you that you’re extraverted, creative, diligent, nice to be around, and a bit neurotic, but also that you’re a driven, socially manipulative psychopath. Nifty, eh?

Our personality assessment goes further in-depth.

While some personality assessments have the capacity to assess more nuance, they often return only broad strokes. For example, most personality tests will simply tell you that you’re an introvert. Here at Good&Co, we go even deeper—we can tell you what type of introvert you are! Are you friendly and sociable, but not very assertive? Are you confident in public while preferring your own company? Are you enthusiastic and outgoing, while secretly harboring a loathing for your fellow human beings? Our assessment breaks down these subtleties to give a deeper and more real-world reflection of who you are and how you’re likely to behave.

The fact is, a surprising number of humans go through the motions of human interaction without truly understand their meaning.

We also break down empathy into its important constituents of compassion vs. emotional intelligence. While these two traits often go hand in hand, our findings are in-line with the scientific literature: not everyone who knows the lyrics can hum the tune. The reality is, a surprising number of humans go through the motions of human interaction without truly understand their meaning. This is why we developed a personality testing method which is able to take a peek under that mask.

Good&Co’s personality quizzes are harder to game.

Whether it’s done consciously or unconsciously, the tendency to scope what is being measured by an assessment and tweak the outcome is pretty much universal. Whether you call it gaming the test, faking good, or social desirability bias, many people have a hard time responding honestly when they know exactly what traits are being assessed. It’s easy to look up the logic underlying various personality testing methods like the Big 5, DISC or Myers-Briggs and adapt your responses to match whatever result you like. Our unconventional question style adds a layer to the process which reduces the risk of such biased responding; time-traveling aliens and zombie apocalypses (apocalypsi?) may seem surreal, but we can learn more accurately about your personality from how you would theoretically respond to a Sharknado* than from simply asking whether you like to go to noisy parties.

Our science takes a 360 degree approach.

We don’t just take one person’s word for it. Most psychometric assessments focus on the individual, or the individual’s perspective on the group. While 360 degree assessments are becoming more common, Good&Co’s approach to personality testing goes a step further by bringing in the whole group dynamic: we measure not only your perspective on yourself, but your perspective on other people, on the teams and organizations you’re a part of – and their perspective on you. We can learn as much about people from what they say about others as about themselves, and from the situations and environments they gravitate towards. We explore the individual not in isolation, but in all the rich contexts of his or her life.

We consider the fluid complexity of human nature.

We like the principle of shu-ha-ri so much, we’ve incorporated it into our model. Traditional personality testing methods are static: you take the test, you get the report, and that’s it. At Good&Co we recognize that while personality has stable core elements which can be reliably measured, no static assessment can reflect the fluid complexity of human nature. In the ongoing evolutions of our assessment model, as in its initial development, we constantly seek to understand, then take a step back, and improve that understanding of personality and organizational culture. Within the system itself, as you answer more and more questions about yourself and others, Good&Co’s algorithms are constantly recalculating, reassessing, improving. Building on a solid foundation from the very first quiz, your profile evolves as it comes to more deeply understand you and your networks, with all your strengths and weaknesses, glories and foibles.

This brings us full circle: Good&Co’s psychometric model is both the same as, and radically different from, other models of personality. In subverting the form of psychometric assessment while respecting the fundamental rules, we were able to evolve both form and function.

At the end of the day, we found that personality testing is just like life: it’s important to keep your feet on the ground, but you can only keep one of them there at a time if you want to get anywhere.

* Sharks in a tornado. Obviously.

 


Dr. Kerry Schofield is co-founder and Chief Psychometrics Officer at Good&Co. A chartered psychologist, consultant statistician, and researcher in the field of individual differences, Kerry graduated from the University of Oxford in 2003 with a degree in experimental psychology, followed by an MSc in research and statistics and a PhD in experimental psychology, which she completed in 2010. Kerry currently lives in London with her partner Nic, a lot of books and a skull called Bob.

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