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Scare Tactics to Prevent Psychological Tests on eBay

Our friends over at The National Psychologist alerted us to a change in eBay’s policy about selling “protected” psychological tests — they now allow the sale (and resale) of such tests, whereas before this policy change they did not.

Their reasoning? Test publishers have not shown any basis, other than pure speculation, that making such tests available for sale could cause the public harm.

Many psychological tests are “protected” or “secured,” meaning they are originally sold only to certain qualified professionals (e.g., licensed professionals or researchers), with proof of their qualification. This is done to protect the integrity of the test. The more people know about a specific test (say, one of the IQ tests commonly used, or the MMPI-2), so the belief goes, the more they will be able to manipulate the test’s results (e.g., artificially inflating one’s IQ or making one’s personality look more “normal”). We see this in the test-retest psychometrics of a test. Take the same test enough times and you’ll begin to learn how to manipulate it (if that’s your intention).

Some psychological testing could lose its validity and usefulness if the results of certain tests become widely or easily manipulated.

Psychology is full of these odd kinds of paradoxes that plague the profession. Psychology generally prides itself on its research heritage and its emphasis on empirical data. Long before physicians and hospitals were talking about “evidence-based medicine,” psychology was founded in looking for rational, scientific explanations for human behavior (and subsequently, treatments for irrational or disordered behavior).

For instance, on one hand psychology prides itself on professionals attaining the doctoral degree, but there’s little empirical support that this higher degree (over something like a Master’s) results in better client outcomes. In other words, research shows that generally the type of degree (and in some cases, even the level of experience) makes little difference in whether people will get better in psychotherapy or not. Yet the psychology profession continues to hold out the doctoral degree as the necessary level of education in order to counsel people, even though the evidence clearly shows it is unnecessary for good client outcomes.

So eBay is asking a legitimate question — show us the research that suggests making psychological testing available to anyone actually causes harm. Otherwise, the same protections that apply to any other copyrighted material that legitimately exchanges hands applies. Because eBay isn’t in the business of being concerned about psychological test validity — it’s in the business of giving people a free marketplace to exchange goods.

Naturally, such data, in empirical form anyway, doesn’t exist. So what do you find on Page 5 of The National Psychologist‘s Jan./Feb. 2008 issue? A huge full-page ad from The Psychological Corporation (one of the largest psychological test publishers) begging clinicians to send them examples (case studies?) of where such public availability of a test resulted in a client’s harm. Not exactly the typical way one looks for harm and a threat to public safety, but hey, at least they’re doing their best to protect their interests.

TPC Ad 2008

And that’s the point. Make no mistake about it, this is about test publishers’ self interests (and revenues), not patient safety. eBay is perfectly within its rights to say, “Look, this isn’t our job to police your copyrighted material legally purchased and now being resold. There are hundreds of thousands of these things in distribution and we’re not the ‘test police.'” The more professionals who buy used tests (rather than shiny new ones), the less money these publishers make.

So while I’m all for the continuing protection of psychological testing, I’m against the restriction of free-trade amongst individuals under the guise of “protecting patients from harm.” It’s a red herring and test publishers should be ashamed of themselves for using it to suggest such sales are detrimental to the general public’s safety.

Scare Tactics to Prevent Psychological Tests on eBay

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Scare Tactics to Prevent Psychological Tests on eBay. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 19 Jan 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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