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Psycasm is the exploration of the world psychological. Every day phenomenon explained and manipulated to one's own advantage. Written by a slightly overambitious undergrad, Psycasm aims at exploring a whole range of social and cognitive processes in order to best understand how our minds, and those mechanisms that drive them, work.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

ResearchBlogging.orgIn my last post [here] all were invited to make judgements about my personality variables based only on a photo of my head and shoulders, and (implicitly) the post associated with it.

It had been suggested by Neumann and colleagues (200) that people can accurately do this - according to their methodology. While my post was a far cry from lab conditions people still made predictions, which is interesting in and of itself. I took the following Big-5 test test - at what appears to be a reputable and academic free online hosting. It was posted by Dr. Tom Buchanan, Department of Psychology, University of Westminster, UK. Click here. A quick explanation as to what the Big-5 are (and my accompanying scores) lifted directly from Dr. Buchanan's site:

Factor I : Extraversion (AKA Surgency)

This trait reflects preference for, and behavior in, social situations. People high in extraversion are energetic and seek out the company of others. Low scorers (introverts) tend to be more quiet and reserved. Compared to other people who have taken this test, your score on this dimension (30) is about average.

Factor II : Agreeableness (AKA Friendliness)

This trait reflects how we tend to interact with others. People high in agreeableness tend to be trusting, friendly and cooperative. Low scorers tend to be more aggressive and less cooperative. Compared to other people who have taken this test, your score on this dimension (28) is about average.

Factor III : Conscientiousness (AKA Will or Dependability)

This trait reflects how organized and persistent we are in pursuing our goals. High scorers are methodical, well organized and dutiful. Low scorers are less careful, less focussed and more likely to be distracted from tasks. Compared to other people who have taken this test, your score on this dimension (40) is relatively high.

Factor IV : Neuroticism (AKA Emotional Stability)

This trait reflects the tendency to experience negative thoughts and feelings. High scorers are prone to insecurity and emotional distress. Low scorers tend to be more relaxed, less emotional and less prone to distress. Compared to other people who have taken this test, your score on this dimension (18) is relatively low.

Factor V : Openness (AKA Culture or Intellect)

This trait reflects ‘open-mindedness’ and interest in culture. High scorers tend to be imaginative, creative, and to seek out cultural and educational experiences. Low scorers are more down-to-earth, less interested in art and more practical in nature. Compared to other people who have taken this test, your score on this dimension (31) is relatively high.

A word of caution – your score on each scale was interpreted relative to a large (2448) sample of other people who have done the test: ‘relatively low’ means your score was in the bottom 30%, ‘relatively high’ in the top 30%, and ‘about average’ somewhere in the middle. However, it is known that different groups of people (e.g. men and women) are likely to score differently on various measures. Therefore, the people you were compared to in generating the feedback may not have been people exactly like you. We are continuing to gather data which will enable a more accurate interpretation of responses. The information you have given us will help in this process.

A measure of Self-Esteem is the Rosenburg Self-Esteem scale [Here]. I scored 22 out of 30, which is the high end of the average.

Taking Differential Loneliness Scale (Schmidt & Sermat, 1983) [here] I scored 13 / 60 - which equates to (roughly) 2 - 3 out of 10 for loneliness.

And so on the following variables I scored the following (out of 10); in the [square brackets] are your scores +/- 1SD around the mean.

Extraversion - 4 - 6 [5 - 8]

Agreeableness - 4 - 6 [ 7 - 8]

Conscientiousness - 7+ [7 - 8]

Emotional Stability - 7+ [7 - 8]

Openness - 7+ [6 - 7]

Likability - n/a [7 - 8]

Self-Esteem - 6 - 7 [4 - 7]

Loneliness - 2 - 3 [1 - 5]

Religiosity - 0 (I couldn't find a test for this, so I guessed) [2 - 5]

Political Orientation - Liberal [Lib]

So, what can we conclude? Well, but the looks of it, you're reasonably accurate. The sample was small, and the test was confounded, but I think it's far to say that your estimations give you a working basis from which to interact with me. And I think that that's the key - you can gain enough of an insight from a very brief and limited encounter to guide any future interactions . My guess is it's that kind of information that allows you to make the decision between addressing someone as Dr., Prof., Mr., Sir/Ma'am, or by their first name; it likely guides you when entering a group situation in picking the Alpha, in knowing who to avoid on the street and whether or not you should even try talking to the hottie at the bar. It's not great, but it's enough.

The outliers seem to be religiousity and (in my mind) openness. Openness, however, might have been due to ambiguity in the term (see above) - my guess is I'm actually closer to an 8 or 9 (I'm as happy reading Poe to Pratchett, as I am at the Botanic Gardens or watching UFC).

Yet, these values are relatively meaningless most of the time. Who cares if I'm open or neurotic - particularly someone who has little to do with me; and those who do spend time with me already have made their judgements and have choosen to stay my friend or avoid me. However, the people who do use these dreaded values are employers, who, I might add, routinely abuse and misunderstand their significance.

Here's a quick run-down on the kind of inferences businesses make from personality variables. This table was taken from Betz & Borgen (2010).


My Relatively High Conscientiousness (>80th precentile) means I correlate well with: Trustworthiness, Goal-directedness, and intellectual and analytical thinking styles. For bonus points my Relatively High Openness (>80th precentile) nets me the creative thinking style too. That’s the trifector! Score!

Looking through such tables can be kind on the Ego, or perhaps a little damaging. Of course the true value in doing such a test (on your own time) is to allow you to rig the scores in your favour. Going for a job that values one trait over another? Go run through the questions a few times trying to spin it your way. If business are going to insist on misapplying such information, you might as well exploit it.

The Big-5 only takes 5 minutes to do [here]. How do you compare? Do you think you're employers are judging you the way you want to be judged? Indeed, does the science correlate with your expecations?


 Betz, N., & Borgen, F. (2010). Relationships of the Big Five Personality Domains and Facets to Dimensions of the Healthy Personality Journal of Career Assessment, 18 (2), 147-160 DOI: 10.1177/1069072709354200

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Blog Comments

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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Very interesting, has anyone looked to see if the test scores actually correlate well with employee performance? Sure, some lame test can fit you into one of many definitions, but is it at all productive to base hiring decisions on these numbers?

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The big-5 have a reasonable predictive value assuming you understand statistics. In terms of work performance I understand it to be most appropriatly used when culling large numbers of people from an initial applicant pool, and dropping the tail-end performers from the pool. Beyond that there are better ways to go about things.
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