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Bias in Personality Research & Assessment

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  • 0:03 Personality Assessment & Bias
  • 0:38 Response Bias
  • 2:43 Cultural Test Bias
  • 3:47 Ethnic Bias
  • 5:16 Gender Bias
  • 6:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Daniel Murdock

Daniel has taught Public Health at the graduate level and has a Ph.D. in Behavioral Sciences & Health Education.

One of the trickiest issues in personality research and assessment is the issue of bias. We'll explore common types of bias in personality assessment and discuss their implications.

Personality Assessment & Bias

Psychologists use many different methods to assess personality traits and styles. Some of the most commonly used methods include self-report questionnaires, such as the Personality Assessment Inventory, and free-response tests, such as the Rorschach Inkblot Test.

Many personality assessment methods are well-grounded in empirical science. Even so, no method is perfect. Personality research and assessment inherently involve the potential for bias, or systematic error, in measures and assessments.

Response Bias

Response bias refers to people's tendency to respond to certain assessment items in a way that is not accurate or truthful. For example, people have a tendency to respond to questions in a way that makes them look more favorable to others - even if their answers are not truthful. This type of response bias is called social desirability bias. Social desirability bias can take the form of over-reporting socially acceptable behavior or under-reporting socially unacceptable behavior.

Imagine that Susan, a psychologist, is conducting a personality assessment using a self-report questionnaire. Several of Susan's questionnaire items ask participants about their alcohol and drug use. These questions involve the potential for social desirability bias because people tend to under-report socially taboo behaviors, such as heavy drinking and drug use.

Acquiescence bias is another type of response bias that refers to people's tendency to agree with statements in a questionnaire when they are asked either to confirm or deny a statement. This is also known as ''yeah-saying.'' For example, one of Susan's questionnaire items asks participants if they agree or disagree with the following statement: ''I rarely drink alcohol.'' Because of acquiescence bias, many participants indicate that they agree with this statement solely out of a tendency to be agreeable.

Extreme responding bias refers to people's tendency to answer survey questions using the extreme high or low ends of a scale. Some types of questions are more likely to introduce extreme responding bias than others, such as questions that ask about participants' motivations or beliefs. Susan's questionnaire includes an item that asks, ''How motivated are you to resist drinking heavily on a scale of 0 (not at all motivated) to 10 (totally motivated)?'' This question leads many participants to respond using the extreme ends of the scale because they have a tendency to characterize their motivations in absolute terms.

Cultural Test Bias

Sometimes personality assessments systematically produce misleading results among members of different cultural groups, such as different ethnic groups and different genders. This phenomenon is known as cultural test bias.

There are three main types of cultural test bias:

  1. Construct bias occurs when a test has different meanings for members of different cultural groups, pertaining to the theoretical concept that the test is intended to measure. Many psychological constructs, such as self-esteem and intelligence, can have different meanings across different cultural groups, which can lead to systematic error in assessments.

  2. Method bias occurs when factors related to the administration of a test systematically yield different test results among different cultural groups. Some causes of method bias include ambiguous directions and interviewer effects.

  3. Item bias refers to problems that occur with individual items on a test, such as problems related to item wording, grammar, and choice of cultural phrases.

Ethnic Bias

Personality assessment with ethnic minority populations has had a very controversial history. There are many ways in which cultural test bias has been shown to produce inaccurate results in assessments with members of ethnic minority groups. This is known as ethnic bias.

Historically, many psychological assessment tools were developed and validated primarily with white, English-speaking samples. Psychologists often assumed that these tests were equally valid among non-white and non-English-speaking ethnic groups without ever examining issues of cultural relevancy.

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