Ethics of Personality Testing

The Problem With Personality Testing193F1DFB-0C78-4689-B898-A32D98F51181-7514-00002018FDEE12DF

     In previous posts I have talked about how often and widely used personality tests are. Whether it’s to determine what Disney Princess you are, or what Myers Briggs type you fall into personality tests are seen everywhere. But, since the boom of their usage in the last century the question of whether or not to actually use them has been an issue. Many people have questioned if it is ethical to use these test results to make decisions. The main concern being their reliability and validity, the basic necessities for any good study.

To Test or not to Test?

On one hand, many people point out that the assessments cannot be tested, therefore cannot be proven correct or incorrect. This has especially developed concern as many employers use personality tests to determine if an applicant is a good fit for a job. Donna Flagg explained in an article in Psychology Today,”[Personality assessments] test knowledge, which is subjective, variable and cognitive, not behavioral, […]They do not reveal what someone can do.” Answers can also vary because the test taker will answer according to what they are feeling in that moment, which does not reflect their entire personality or capability.

On the other hand, many people see personality tests as a life skills tool. Lindsay Holmes gave 5 Really Good Reasons to Take a Personality Test. The underlying theme of the article was that “they can help.” It is also seen as a helpful hiring tool for employers. Linda Trainor states, “The benefits of using these tests include increased ability to predicts probable attitudes and behaviors that could ultimately influence the individuals success or failure.” With people changing jobs so often nowadays this could help employers spend less time sifting through applicants who probably are not up to the job. But, of course, we always come back to the question of whether these test are actual reliable.

Official Stance of the American Psychological Association (APA) on Assessments

The APA has an extensive section on the use of personality tests. Multiple sections on this topic disapprove the use of these tests lightly.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA) Code of Ethics, on assessments, “9.02 […] Psychologists use assessment instruments whose validity and reliability have been established for use with members of the population tested.” Meaning that psychologist cannot use assessments that have not been officially tested and verified as being accurate to diagnose an individual.

The APA Code of Ethics also points points out in the following statement that psychologist have to take into account multiple factors when receiving test results,”9.06 […] When interpreting assessment results, including automated interpretations, psychologists take into account the purpose of the assessment as well as the various test factors, test-taking abilities, and other characteristics of the person being assessed, such as situational, personal, linguistic, and cultural differences, that might affect psychologists’ judgments or reduce the accuracy of their interpretations.”
The APA Code of Ethics also disapproves of unqualified people administering and interpreting assessments,” 9.07 […] Psychologists do not promote the use of psychological assessment techniques by unqualified persons.”


We can see there is a tough decision that everyone makes anytime a personality test is taken; Is this true? How do we go about deciding whether to believe results to a test that cannot be tested? Personally, I have taken hundreds of personality tests in my life and I still do not have a definitive answer. But, I would say that the answer cannot be in black and white. I adhere to the Code of Ethics from the APA whenever I am trying to make a concrete decision. Does this person have an illness? Should I be friends with this person? What should my career be? But, I also agree that personality tests can be used to help make a decision, like a guide.

Just keep in mind that we cannot give a concrete label to something so fluid as a personality and behavior. If we could then we would never grow.


Readers: How much weight do you put on personality testing? Have you used them in the past? Would you?