A new psychological test that asks people to assess the mental health of others has found that the most commonly assessed personality traits are not the same as the “real” personality.
The new research is based on a survey conducted by researchers from the University of Melbourne and the University’s Department of Psychology.
They say that while personality traits do indeed vary across cultures and between people, the most important thing to look for in a personality test is the extent to which it captures the general public’s interest.
“Psychological assessment has been used to determine many things in life, including our ability to be successful in employment, our attitudes towards people of different cultures, our relationships with others, and in some cases our happiness,” Dr Sarah Cottrell from the Department of Psychological Science and Technology at the University said.
“So a test that accurately predicts your general level of happiness, your overall level of wellbeing, and the likelihood that you will have a long-term career are very valuable.”
She said the findings, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, were “a very useful way to understand the general nature of a person’s personality and how it differs across cultures”.
The researchers, who are part of the Australian Psychological Association (APA), found that people who were asked to rate their own level of psychological distress were more likely to rate it positively than people who had a blank answer.
“What that means is that we have to take a very hard look at the nature of our subjective experiences and the ways in which we process and interpret information in order to assess whether our subjective experience of a personality type is accurate or not,” Dr Cottrel said.
She said it was clear that psychologists could improve the reliability of their assessments by looking more closely at how the test was administered and also whether participants were actually asked questions.
“It’s also important to understand that these assessments are only one way to assess a personality, so the fact that people’s subjective ratings are not always the same across cultures may mean that psychologists can improve their reliability,” she said.
This research is being used to develop a psychological assessment test that is more accurate and less inaccurate than previous personality assessments that have been done in the past.
“We also need to consider how we interpret these findings, as they may reveal that the personality traits we use to assess someone’s level of personality are in fact not always representative of their actual personality,” Dr Karel Stolzenberg from the APA said.
The APA has been working with a number of psychologists in Australia to develop the new test, called the Psychological Test of Depression, and has been developing a new version of it since September.
The test is based upon a questionnaire that asks respondents to rate how much they feel they are likely to experience a particular mood and to rate the severity of that mood.
Dr Cottredell said this test was particularly useful for people who are suffering from depression and anxiety, who were not already aware of their personality traits and had been asked to assess them.
“If you’re depressed, for example, or you’re having anxiety about your own wellbeing, you may not know exactly how much of a depressive mood you’re experiencing, but if you are given the opportunity to compare how they feel to their actual level of depressive mood, you can see how much depression they have,” she explained.
The psychologists also developed an automated version of the Psychologist’s Depression Scale (PDS), which is based entirely on the PDS and has an accuracy rate of 95 per cent.
The researchers used the automated test to measure the extent of psychological suffering experienced by people who did not take part in the survey.
“When you’re taking a personality assessment and you’re not necessarily making use of what we call ‘the full scale’, then the person who is having the most severe depressive mood is the one who has the least personality, the least amount of psychological wellbeing, which is actually the person that you are measuring,” Dr Stolzengberg said.
He said the automated personality assessment test was useful for researchers who were already aware that there was a relationship between personality and wellbeing and to measure it.
“The way that we can measure this is that there are some features of personality that are associated with wellbeing,” he said.
Dr Stolberg said the APAA would be keen to develop future tests based on the automated questionnaire.
“Our intention is to build a database that will allow researchers to build profiles that are based on personality and personality traits,” he explained.
“In the future, it’s possible to develop tests that allow us to collect information about personality that is not already collected in surveys.”