Chapter 5 Personality


The psychometric approach is examined in this chapter. There are other approaches to personality, such as the psychoanalytic approach, which is so dodgy that the course team have seen sense and left it out. (Although some of it is really funny — for example, if you had strict parents during your potty training, you'd deliberately hold it in to spite them, and grow up to have a mean, grasping personality and probably work in a bank, but if you had nice parents who appreciated your efforts you'd grow up to be a show-off and probably be an artist — especially a potter.) The psychometric and psychoanalytic approaches are conflicting approaches, which both conflict with the humanistic approach. (More on psychoanalytic and humanistic approaches in chapter 9.)

Psychometric approaches to personality have been applied in many interesting ways. If you go for a job, for example, you may be asked to complete a personality questionnaire which will ask you questions like: Do you enjoy going to parties and meeting new people? and surprise you by telling you whether you are extraverted or not. Deep insights like this are used as a basis for whether to offer you the job. Some psychologists associated with psychometrics have also been involved in the eugenics movement, which believes in the compulsory sterilisation of people who do not answer questionnaires correctly. In Sweden between the 1930s and 1980s, this affected some 60,000 people. Tests have also been used in this way in the USA. In Britain, Cyril Burt made up lots of test results so that he could get a knighthood, and in the process condemned many hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren to underfunded (i.e., crap) schools.

The psychometric approach has been used at different levels of analysis to look at the structure of personality and also its biological basis.

Psychometric personality theorists think that Mischel is wrong to say that there is no such thing as "personality" — we tend to behave differently depending on the situation we're in, and that we merely seem to be consistent because we tend to fill in questionnaires in a consistent way, and thus personality questionnaires are not valid. Many psychometric theorists charge a lot of money for their personality questionnaires.


It uses what it calls the Inductive-Hypothetico-Deductive spiral. Unlike proper science which tries really hard to disprove its theories, and only if it can't, does it say the theory is probably true, some psychometricians set up their psychometric tests and the subsequent statistical analysis of them to show their theories are correct, and lo and behold they do.


More interested in how people vary along dimensions, rather than their uniqueness.

Different theories have different views on whether our personalities are fixed or can change.

They also have different views on nature/nurture and determinism/free will.

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