How do psychologists measure personality? Measuring personality can help predict how people will behave at work, at school, and in therapy. However, painting a detailed pic- ture can be a challenge. In many instances, it requires several of the techniques described in this section. To capture a personality as unique as Annette’s, it might take all of them!
How is personality “measured”? Psychologists use interviews, observation, questionnaires, and projective tests to assess personal- ity (Burger, 2011). Each method has strengths and limitations. For this reason, they are often used in combination.
Formal personality measures are refinements of more casual ways of judging a person. At one time or another, you have proba- bly “sized up” a potential date, friend, or roommate by engaging in conversation (interview). Perhaps you have asked a friend, “When I am delayed I get angry. Do you?” (questionnaire). Maybe you watch your professors when they are angry or embarrassed to learn what they are “really” like when they’re caught off-guard (observa- tion). Or possibly you have noticed that when you say, “I think people feel . . . ,” you may be expressing your own feelings (projec- tion). Let’s see how psychologists apply each of these methods to probe personality.
Interviews In an interview, direct questioning is used to learn about a person’s life history, personality traits, or current mental state (Murphy & Dillon, 2011; Sommers-Flanagan & Sommers-Flanagan, 2008). In an unstructured interview, conversation is informal and topics are
taken up freely as they arise. In a structured interview, informa- tion is gathered by asking a planned series of questions.
How are interviews used? Interviews are used to identify person- ality disturbances; to select people for jobs, college, or special pro- grams; and to study the dynamics of personality. Interviews also provide information for counseling or therapy. For instance, a coun- selor might ask a depressed person, “Have you ever contemplated suicide? What were the circumstances?” The counselor might then follow by asking, “How did you feel about it?” or, “How is what you are now feeling different from what you felt then?”
In addition to providing information, interviews make it possi- ble to observe a person’s tone of voice, hand gestures, posture, and facial expressions. Such “body language” cues are important because they may radically alter the message sent, as when a person claims to be “completely calm” but trembles uncontrollably.
Computerized Interviews If you were distressed and went to a psychologist or psychiatrist, what is the first thing she or he might do? Typically, a diagnostic interview is used to find out how a person is feeling and what com- plaints or symptoms he or she has. In many cases, such interviews are based on a specific series of questions. Because the questions are always the same, it has become commonplace to use computers to do the interviewing.