Types of Psychological Testing

By Jane Framingham, Ph.D.

Personality Assessment

Personality assessment is designed to help a professional better understand an individual’s personality. Personality is a complex combination of factors that has been developed over a person’s entire childhood and young adulthood. There are genetic, environmental and social components to personality — our personalities are not shaped by one single influence. Therefore tests that measure personality take into account this complexity and rich texture.

There are two primary types of personality tests — objective, by far the most commonly used today, and projective. Objective tests include things like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2), the 16PF, and the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory-III (MCMI-III). Projective tests include the Rorschach Inkblot Test, the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), and the Draw-a-Person test.

Objective Tests

The most common objective personality test is the MMPI-2, a 567 true/false test that is a good measure of dysfunction within personality. It is less useful as a measure of healthy or positive personality traits, because its design was based on helping a professional to find a psychiatric diagnostic label that best suited an individual. Originally developed in the 1940s, it was significantly revised in 1989 (and had another minor revision in 2001).

The MMPI-2 measures personality traits such as paranoia, hypomania, social introversion, masculinity/femininity, and psychopathology, among others. It does this by connecting an individual’s responses to dozens of questions scattered throughout the test that are positively or negatively correlated with a particular personality trait. Because the questions are not always obviously related to the trait to which they are correlated, it is difficult to “fake” this test. The MMPI-2 is most often self-administered on a computer in a clinician’s office.

The Millon (MCMI-III) is specifically used to arrive at a DSM-IV personality disorder diagnosis. Because it takes only about a third of the time to take as the MMPI-2, it is often preferred when a simple assessment of an individual’s personality disorder is needed.

Because the MMPI-2 is not an ideal measure for people with healthy personalities, other measures, such as the 16PF may be more appropriate. The 16PF measures 16 basic personality traits and can help a person better understand where their personality falls amongst those traits:

  1. Warmth (Reserved vs. Warm; Factor A)
  2. Reasoning (Concrete vs. Abstract; Factor B)
  3. Emotional Stability (Reactive vs. Emotionally Stable; Factor C)
  4. Dominance (Deferential vs. Dominant; Factor E)
  5. Liveliness (Serious vs. Lively; Factor F)
  6. Rule-Consciousness (Expedient vs. Rule-Conscious; Factor G)
  7. Social Boldness (Shy vs. Socially Bold; Factor H)
  8. Sensitivity (Utilitarian vs. Sensitive; Factor I)
  9. Vigilance (Trusting vs. Vigilant; Factor L)
  10. Abstractedness (Grounded vs. Abstracted; Factor M)
  11. Privateness (Forthright vs. Private; Factor N)
  12. Apprehension (Self-Assured vs. Apprehensive; Factor O)
  13. Openness to Change (Traditional vs. Open to Change; Factor Q1)
  14. Self-Reliance (Group-Oriented vs. Self-Reliant; Factor Q2)
  15. Perfectionism (Tolerates Disorder vs. Perfectionistic; Factor Q3)
  16. Tension (Relaxed vs. Tense; Factor Q4)

This type of assessment might be administered so that a person can better understand themselves, and it can also help a professional better understand what type of approach or strategy to employ in treatment to best help the person.

Projective Tests

The most famous projective test is the Rorschach Inkblot Test. The test is composed 5 black and white inkblot cards and 5 colored inkblot cards that an individual is shown and then asked to tell the professional what they see. The most popular scoring system for the Rorschach is the Exner system, developed in the 1970s. Responses are scored based the location described in the inkblot, and its determinants — the things in the blot that prompted the person’s response. So yes, for the Rorschach there are answers that are “more right” than others.

The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) is comprised of 31 cards that depict people in a variety of situations. A few contain only objects and one card is completely blank. Often only a small subset of the cards is given (such as 10 or 20). The person viewing the card is asked to make up a story about what they see. The TAT is not often formally scored; instead it’s a test designed to try and distinguish recurring themes in the person’s life. The pictures themselves have no inherent or “correct” story; therefore anything a person says about the picture may be an unconscious reflection into the person’s life or inner turmoil.

Behavioral Assessment

Behavioral assessment is the process of observing or measuring a person’s actual behavior to try and better understand the behavior and the thoughts behind it, and determine possible reinforcing components or triggers for the behavior. Through the process of behavioral assessment, a person — and/or a professional — can track behaviors and help change them.

After a clinical interview, the core of behavioral assessment is naturalistic observation — that is, observing the person in a natural setting and taking notes (much like an anthropologist). This can be done at home (think “Super Nanny” when Nanny spends the first day simply observing the current family patterns of behavior), at school, at work, or in a hospital or inpatient setting. Target negative and positive behaviors are observed, as well as their respective reinforcements. Then the therapist has a good idea of what needs to change in order to obtain new, healthier behaviors.

Self-monitoring is also a component of behavioral assessment. For instance, when a person is asked to keep a mood journal and track their moods over the course of a week or month, that’s a form of self-monitoring.

Inventories and checklists, popular nowadays online in the form of quizzes, can also be a form of behavioral assessment. For instance, the Beck Depression Inventory is a popular depression behavioral assessment.

* * *

Psychological assessment encompasses a wide variety of types of tests, procedures and techniques used to help a psychologist better understand a person. Once psychological testing has been completed, the professional typically requires a few weeks to compile the data, interpret it, and write up a personalized assessment report for the individual.

Such reports are usually lengthy and try to tie together the findings from all the various tests administered (if more than one test was administered). Findings that are outliers — e.g., only one test suggests something is significant but it is not backup by other tests — may be noted, but aren’t as significant as thematic findings that run through all the tests. The point of the test report is to summarize the findings in plain English, identify strengths and weaknesses, and help shed light on a person to help them better understand themselves.

The old saying, “Know thyself” comes to mind. When used responsibly in a clinical or school setting, psychological testing has been shown to help individuals better “know thyself” in ways that simply talking to a person might never discover.


APA Reference
Framingham, J. (2011). Types of Psychological Testing. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 29, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/types-of-psychological-testing/0005924
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.