What is a psychometric?

The answer lies within the name; psycho means the ‘mind’ and metrics means ‘measurement’. The human mind has fascinated scientists since we first developed a sense of self and recognised that we tend to behave in certain ways. Philosophers and psychologists love to name their intangible ideas in order to share them.

The Greeks started with the theory of the humours; they divided people into 4 categories – phlegmatics, melancholics, sanguines, and cholerics. This view worked several thousand years ago, but not today; today we have a much better understanding of what makes us humans ‘tick’.

Understanding Ourselves

In 1921 Carl Jung came along and revolutionised the way we think about people. He categorised people into 4 archetypes:

  • The Self – unified unconscious and conscious
  • The Shadow – unconscious mind – repressed ideas, weaknesses, desires – basic life instincts
  • The Animus – true self male & female integrated – unification
  • The Persona – Latin for ‘mask’ – image we present to the world – social masks we put on depending on the situation

During World War II, Isabel Myers and Katharine Briggs became fascinated in why conflict developed between individuals – they wanted to understand why people get into conflict situations. Their studies and application of Jungian psychology to the war led to the development of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Psychometric Tool. This is what is known as a ‘type’ based tool. A type based tool categorises people into a theory-driven type. The theory is that you are born with a certain personality type and behave in accordance with this type; as opposed to a ‘trait’ based tool such as 16 Personality Factors (16PF), which is based on the belief that our personality alters and changes according to our circumstances and environment and is more context relative than an absolute.

The Big Five

In 1949 Fiske published a study in which he identified five factors which could account for the variances in human personality. This was further developed in the 1950s by Tupes and Christal and the Big Five model was officially born. Over the years the Big Five has become the accepted taxonomy for academics to research personality. The Big Five personality traits, known by the acronym OCEAN, are:

  • Openness to experience
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

The Big Five theory led to the development of tools such as OPP Frequent Interpersonal Relations Orientation (FIRO) and Dr Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis (TA) – Parent, Adult, Child and ‘Games People Play’ (1957).

Little happened in the development of psychometrics in the following years. However, during this time psychological theory began to creep off the psychologists’ couch and into the business world. Businesses began to realise that competitiveness was not just the result of lean processes. As the technological revolution grew, competition became tougher. The need to be innovative and to grow leadership capability became just as important as process improvement. And, with this focus on innovation and productivity, the L&D world began to apply psychometric tools in their leadership development programmes.

And today it remains just as important for L&D Professionals understand the psychometric world and to able to apply and use the psychometric tools in training and in business. When used right, they are a powerful tool for individual self-reflection, but also team building and collaboration.

The next generation

New psychometrics are always coming on to the market. A particularly impressive one is Lumina Spark. This is known as a next generation psychometric because it has embraced technology, is very versatile and has a range of psychometric assessments which can be used for different scenarios – understanding self, teams, leadership, emotion and sales. There is also a tool called Lumina Select which can be used for recruitment, opening the opportunity to finally link recruitment through to the development world. The creators of the tool have reflected on the history and theory of psychometrics and developed a dynamic psychometric which embraces the paradox of human personality. Lumina Spark has been designed to integrate best practice identified in a range of Big Five and Jungian models for application in industry. In particular, Lumina Spark has set out to retain the benefits established by the Jungian approach, while using the latest empirical Big Five research as its guiding light.

The future will be very interesting as technology grows and open up even more exciting ways to use and apply psychometrics in the field of L&D, potentially with neuroscience being able to shed even more light on how our brains work. At Underscore Group, we are looking forward to seeing what the next phase of development will be in the psychometric field, and how we can use these tools to help people better understand themselves, and their colleagues, and use this information to become better at what they do and more fulfilled in their careers and personal lives.

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