The Pros and Cons of Personality Tests, and Whether they can Detect a Stuttering Character
The issue of whether to implement personality tests is a contentious topic with fervent advocates on both sides. On the one hand, personality tests do provide some basic outline of a person's character and personality; on the other hand, it is difficult to determine exactly how accurate the test is or whether it is even applicable in the practice of a person's life. At the present moment, there continues to exist significant backlash against personality tests, although this tendency is perhaps unfair given the possible virtues of implementing such procedures. It is most likely that personality tests are appropriate in certain contexts; however, even in these situations it is important to avoid placing excessive emphasis of the findings gleaned from a personality test. Another significant question raised by the extant literature on personality tests is which specific contexts are most conducive to personality testing; these include areas from employment hiring to determining the personality traits of children. This essay addresses the virtue and drawbacks of personality testing in the area of stuttering, and then progresses to a more general discussion of the efficacy of personality testing. In order to examine the validity of personality testing to determine whether a person has a stuttering character, this paper reviews the article "Temperament dimensions in stuttering and typically developing children" (Eggers et al., 2010), an analysis that endeavors to determine whether personality tests offer any predictive value with regard to determining whether a person might have a propensity for stuttering. Subsequently, the paper continues with a discussion of the benefits and hindrances of personality testing. In the end, the paper argues that personality tests are not helpful, a position that is arrived at through the aid of supporting examples.
In the article "Temperament dimensions in stuttering and typically developing children," Eggers et al. undertake the issue of determining whether those children who exhibit stuttering characteristics share any overriding personality traits. The authors' goal was to arrive at some framework of personality traits that might offer predictive value with regard to stuttering; in other words, are there personality traits that make it more likely for a person to stutter, or is stuttering a randomly arrived at phenomenon? Although there are many different avenues that one could take in order to answer such a question, the author's utilized the Dutch version of the Children's Behavior Questionnaire, a caregiver rating scale that evaluates personality traits in a number of different areas.
The subjects used for the study were 116 age and gender-matched children who stutter (CWS) and typically developing children (TDC). The authors do not explain whether the subjects used for the study were arrived at through random selection or through careful consideration, and this constitutes a possible objection for the study. The authors found that there were significant differences in temperament and personality between the children who stutter and those who were typically developing. Consequently, the article contends that more general personality traits do offer some predictive value with regard to determining whether a child stutters. To this end, the authors' assert that one can justifiably contend that there is a 'stuttering character' that involves several personality traits. The specific personality traits shared by the children who stutter were uniformly 'undesirable," and included Negative Affectivity and Effortful Control. The authors also found that the children who stutter were significantly more likely to have difficulty in "Inhibiting Control" and "Attentional Shifting." Additionally, they exhibited greater levels of "Anger/Frustration," "Approach," and "Motor Activation." The authors concluded their results with the acknowledgment that the specific severity of the stuttering and the duration in which the children had exhibited stuttering characteristics were not taken into consideration.
The article is useful in that it manages to elucidate a distinct group of personality traits shared by a sample of children who stutter, in comparison with a control group of children who develop traditionally. However, it is surprising that the authors do not provide a comprehensive framework for stuttering as it manifests over the course of one's life. In particular, the subjects used for the study were all children; are the personality traits evinced by adults who stutter different in any significant ways from those found in the children? Moreover, the very descriptor "typically developing children" is fraught with potential objections: outside of managing not to stutter and having a decreased propensity toward the personality characteristics shared by the children who stutter, were there any shared similarities within the control group?
The acknowledged limitations expressed by the authors -- namely, that duration of stuttering and severity of stuttering were not taken into consideration for the study -- are limitations that arose from no fault of the authors but instead constitute inherent drawbacks of personality tests more generally. Two articles that expand upon the limitations of personality testing include Robert Spillane's "Why workplaces must resist the cult of personality testing" (2012) and "Unproctored internet-based tests of cognitive ability and personality: Magnitude of cheating and response distortion" (Arthur et al., 2009). Spillane's analysis expresses the viewpoint that personality testing should be afforded little consideration (or applicability within the workplace hiring process) due to the fact that it strips the personality tester outside of his natural environment. Moreover, personality tests have a tendency to focus (or highlight) on the negative aspects of an individual's personality while overlooking the ability of the respondent to adapt to difficult or adverse situations. Additionally, an inherent limitation to personality testing is the simple fact that "personality" is a relative term that is interpreted alternately between different people. Spillane notes:
"The theoretical status of personality is problematic because psychologists cannot agree among themselves on fundamental issues. At least 200 competing definitions are available, and the only theme which can be extracted is that personality is known through the observation of relatively consistent tendencies in people's behaviour. These are referred to internal powers, or traits, which are conceived of as exerting control over their conduct and thereby constituting an explanation of it." (n. pag.)
In the absence of a stable definition of personality, there is simply no method for adequately arriving at issues as complex as whether there is a "stuttering character." While there is no doubt that the 200 competing definitions alluded to by Spillane share overlapping similarities, personality tests must arrive at a more definitive, shared framework before they can sufficiently be deployed in areas such as arriving at a taxonomy for identifying whether someone has the personality type that would make them liable to stutter.
The analysis conducted by Arthur et al. (2009) represents another rebuttal against personality testing. The authors argue that personality testing is ineffective because it is too easy for the person being administered the test to cheat on the assessment. In particular, Arthur et al. note that response distortion is an especially easy area in which to cheat. Although they do note that the limitations of personality testing can be at least partially circumvented through techniques such as forced-choice responses, empirical keying, and warnings of verification, it is too difficult to justify the results of such testing (p. 40). Moreover, the presence of response proctors has been shown to have little ability to guarantee more accurate results (p. 43).
Despite the wealth of evidence that suggests that personality tests are not worth administering, there are advocates of the approach. In particular, the book Tests and Measurement for People Who (Think They) Hate Tests and Measurement (Salkind, 2012) contends that personality tests do help illuminate otherwise unquantifiable areas of personality:
"Personality tests measure those enduring traits and characteristics of an individual that are nonmental and nonphysical in nature -- such things as attitudes, values, interpretations, style, and, of course, individual characteristics…The better the measure, the more accurate the prediction…