More Than Meets the Eye: The Evolution of Personality Testing
If you’ve taken a personality test before, you know it can be a tedious and frustrating process. The prospect of answering countless and repetitive questions leaves people disengaged – yet these tests continue to be taken by millions every year. Recruiters, HR professionals and psychologists use them to assess things like how someone might fit into a company’s culture, people’s leadership styles, areas of potential growth, or simply how groups work together. Indeed, the science behind these applications is well established with models of personality such as the Big Five having 50 years of research behind them.
However, as new HR technologies emerge, traditional tests seem increasingly out of touch. Why? Because the user experience is often incredibly poor. Many tests still involve pencil and paper, and almost always endless word-crunching. The bigger problem is that they don’t tap into what we humans are best at: visual processing.
Visual tests are not completely new. Image-based tests like the Rorschach inkblot test, which unearths unconscious (and often consciously embarrassing) aspects of the human psyche, have long been used by psychologists to explore personality. New generations of image-based tests do not rely on ambiguous stimuli, but instead use images in different ways. Leutner and colleagues developed a measure of creativity that uses text-based questions, but replaces a text rating scale with a series of two to eight images. The user then responds to the images. Traitify, where I serve as chief psychology officer, takes another approach and has created a user-friendly and mobile assessment using the Big Five model. These use a series of images accompanied by brief captions. Users then simply click “Me” or “Not Me” at the bottom of the image.
The use of images in personality assessments makes them more fun, seamless and engaging, but also has other added benefits. First, using image-based assessments can reduce test taker fatigue because processing pictures requires less attention than processing text and is much, much faster. In fact, Potter and colleagues found that the brain can process the complex information within an image in only 13 milliseconds. This is a staggering 60,000 times faster than processing text alone! The reduction in test fatigue can lead to more accurate responses and better completion rates.
Second, images not only tap into conscious processes extremely quickly but they also access the unconscious, and elicit faster and stronger preferences. Responses to images are more likely to be definitive. Third, image-based assessments are easier to digest for those who have difficulty reading or understanding text. This should make them more accessible to those with learning difficulties, less education or language barriers. Finally, a stronger reliance on images as opposed to text may be the better approach when trying to understand personality across cultures. Carefully selected images don’t require the kind of fine-tuning across languages and cultures that text requires, and are thus less prone to cultural misunderstandings.
Given the potential benefits of using images in assessment, it isn’t surprising that test designers have begun to use pictures and even videos. As an example, researchers are even beginning to explore the use of assessments that mimic video games to predict the success of orthopedic surgical residents. Although more work is needed to establish the full validity of the new generation of visual assessments, initial research looks promising. One thing is certain: we must find creative and interesting ways to measure personality and keep up with people’s increasing expectations of emerging technology.
Visual tests like these are becoming more common and critical now more than ever before, thanks to the evolution of technology and increase in new behaviors and usage of devices. A report on media consumption from University of California, San Diego estimates that we consume information for an average of 12 hours a day, bombarding our brains with 34 gigabytes of data per day, which requires more internal, human processing than ever before. Mobile phones are a major contributor to the rise in information consumption and it’s only going to increase with 5 billion global mobile users by 2019. In addition, people in emerging economies like China, India and Africa are using mobile phones as their only means to access the internet.
Rather than stick to traditional methods, it’s imperative that we start to embrace the benefits of mobile technology—allowing people to take and use image-based personality tests, quickly and simply, wherever they are in the world. Technology will continue to advance steadily as will the expectations of job applicants. Using advancements like image-based tests to capitalize on seemingly obvious facts (humans are best at visual processing!) will become the norm. Companies ignoring these trends will quickly get left behind.