How psychologists cope with cheating on personality tests

By Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, PhD. 

Cheating a personality test

Are you cynical about personality tests? Do you worry that they may be a waste of time because the people filling them in are likely to fake their answers? Do you think that you might be able to skew the test results yourself? Does that make you think the results of all tests are therefore likely to be bogus?

Well, don’t worry. The chances are that if you’re given a well designed survey, all of those questions will have been factored in and effectively countered.

personality testPersonality tests have been used for clinical, educational, and employment assessment for more than 100 years – information I provide not only to show that they have a proven track record, but also because during that time the tests themselves have been submitted to rigorous assessment. These studies have produced three key findings and strategies for taking the faking out of the equation:

  1. Most people try to skew their results to the same degree. So, for instance, in high stakes tests such as those relating to job interviews, people tend to inflate the points they assume to be positive by around 10-20%. But because most people bend things in the same direction, it’s easy to see where meaningful differences remain.
  2. The best tests conceal their true intentions: people taking them don’t know what is really being assessed, or why certain questions are being asked. What’s more, plenty of tests can also assess how long people take to answer each question and alert assessors to any unusual response patterns or internal inconsistencies. The net result is that it’s generally better to answer honestly than try to game the system. [Read more…]