Ethics of Personality Testing

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     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?


Review of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)


An overview of the MBTI

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality assessment that can either be administered by a certified professional, or through the MBTI website for a fee.  A shorter, free version of the test, as well as explanations, can be found through 16personalities. The MBTI analyzes four categories of the takers personality.  These categories are introversion vs. extroversion, sensing vs. intuition, thinking vs. feeling, and perceiving vs. judging.


  • Introversion vs. Extroversion looks at where people get, and focus their energy.


  • Sensing vs. Intuition looks at how people get their information.
    • 16personalities also explains about this facet, “a decision is only as good as the understanding that backs it.” A sensing personality uses their physical senses (hear, taste, touch, see, smell) in acquiring information about their environment. An intuitive personality looks instead at the patterns and messages of their environment when acquiring information.


  • Thinking vs. Feeling looks at how people make decision, and how they deal with emotions.



User Friendliness of the MBTI Assessment

The MBTI is intended for multiple types of users including:

  • Employers
  • Universities
  • Professionals
  • Personal users

According to the official Myers Briggs website the assessment can be used for many reasons including relationships, careers, education, spirituality, and in the workplace.  The largest users of the MBTI, though, are corporations.  Elena Bajic in a Forbes article wrote, “80% of Fortune 100 companies rely on these types of tests.”


High Popularity Since 1940s

Carl G. Jung published his book, Psychological Types, in 1921 describing personality.  He claimed that a ones personality was either introverted or extroverted, and from there the personality had four functions, sensing, intuition, thinking, and feeling.  This concept was a new idea in the realm of personality psychology.  In 1944, Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother Katherine Cook Briggs published the MBTI, which expanded on Jung’s concept, creating sixteen possible personality types instead of Jung’s eight.  In 1975, the Center for Applications of Psychological  Type (CAPT) started research on the MBTI and continues to do so today.  Since then, multiple new editions have been released on the MBTI, and according to MBTI’s publisher, Consulting Psychologists Press, “As many as 1.5 million assessments are administered annually.”

For readers who have taken the Myers Briggs Type Indicator Assessment (MBTI), what was your experience with the test? Did you agree with the results?


An Overview of Personality Testing

My field of study is the psychology behind personality testing.  It is so widely used by the public and professionals that an understanding of various aspects of the tests is vital.  I aim to decrease misuse of the tests and educate the public on how the test results are fabricated.  Elaboration might also be helpful on the benefits of test typing and ways in which it can be improved upon for more professional use. It falls under personality psychology, and is a sub field of psychology, which is the study of the mind.


History of Personality Tests

Personality testing has been around since the time of the ancient Greeks. Hippocrates categorized peoples’ temperaments based on the four different bodily fluids, blood, mucus, black bile, and yellow bile, according to a Colorcode article. This study is called Humorism.  Personality psychology then expanded broadly in the 20th century.  The first accepted testing instrument developed, the Woodworth Personal Data Sheet, by Robert S. Woodworth, was created in 1917 to test potential soldiers for mental disorders.  Further personality tests were created from there by psychologists such as Rorschach, Freud, and Jung.  Jung’s test, Psychological Types, categorized people into four functions; sensing, thinking, feeling, and intuition.  Later on, Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers expanded on Jung’s test to create the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).


Value of Personality Tests

Many of these tests made their way to the public and professionals alike. But, why are they so valued? Many theories are available on why personality tests are popular.  Jordan Shapiro wrote in a Forbes article, “My theory is that it is a collective manifestation of a psychological function that Sigmund Freud called displacement.” Sociologist Christine Whelan believes that people love talking about themselves, or answering personal questions. Lindsay Holmes wrote in a Huffington Post article,” The more insight you have into how you operate, the easier it is to determine what your best and worst traits are.” This theory may give someone an insight on how to make their next decision.  Others, such as Avery Hurt in a Mental Floss article, believe that the tests are so popular because you cannot fail it.

Professional Uses

As mentioned previously, personality testing is occasionally being used by some professionals to type their employees and their applicants.  Occupational psychology is common in large corporations to help their employees, and to help find qualified applicants. According to Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology 29% of employers use one or more forms of psychological measurement or assessment. These tests are sometimes used to do so. Personality typing is also used in dating websites to find more compatible matches.


This post is just a summary of the history of personality testing and its current popularity.  Personality typing is an ongoing topic of discussion in the realm of personality psychology currently, with new opinions coming out continuously.

Have you taken a personality test? What were your results? How accurate was the test? Would you use it in your company?