Discuss the main observational methods used in personality assessment. What problems do we face in using these methods?
The main observational methods used in personality assessment are interview, observation, ratings, nomination, and situational tests.
(1) Interview :- It is a commonly used method for assessing personality. This involves talking to the person being assessed and asking specific questions. Diagnostic interviewing generally involves in-depth interviewing which seeks to go beyond the replies given by the person. Interviews may be structured or unstructured depending on the purpose or goals of assessment.
In unstructured interviews, the interviewer seeks to develop an impression about a person by asking a number of questions. The way a person presents her/himself and answers the questions carries enough potential to reveal her/his personality.
The structured interviews address very specific questions and follow a set procedure. This is often done to make objective comparison of persons being interviewed. Use of rating scales may further enhance the objectivity of evaluations.
(2) Observation :- Observation of behaviour is another method which is very commonly used for the assessment of personality. Use of observation for personality assessment is a sophisticated procedure that cannot be carried out by untrained people. It requires careful training of the observer, and a fairly detailed guideline about analysis of behaviours in order to assess the personality of a given person.
For example, a clinical psychologist may like to observe her/his client’s interaction with family members and home visitors. With carefully designed observation, the clinical psychologist may gain considerable insight into a client’s personality.
(3) Behavioural Ratings :- These are frequently used for assessment of personality in educational and industrial settings. Behavioural ratings are generally taken from people who know the assessee intimately and have interacted with her/him over a period of time or have had a chance to observe her/him. They attempt to put individuals into certain categories in terms of their behavioural qualities. The categories may involve different numbers or descriptive terms. It has been found that use of numbers or general descriptive adjectives in rating scales always creates confusion for the rater. In order to use ratings effectively, the traits should be clearly defined in terms of carefully stated behavioural anchors.
(4) Nomination :- This method is often used in obtaining peer assessment. It can be used with persons who have been in long-term interaction and who know each other very well. In using nomination, each person is asked to choose one or more persons of the group with whom s/he would like to work, study, play or participate in any other activity. The person may also be asked to specify the reason for her/his choices.
(5) Situational Tests :- A variety of situational tests have been devised for the assessment of personality. The most commonly used test of this kind is the situational stress test. It provides
us with information about how a person behaves under stressful situations. The test requires a person to perform a given task with other persons who are instructed to be non-cooperative and interfering. The test involves a kind of role playing. The person is instructed to play a role for which s/he is observed. A verbal report is also obtained on what s/he was asked to do. The situation may be realistic one, or it may be created through a video play.
Problems faced in using these methods :-
Observation and interview methods are characterised by the following limitations :-
- Professional training required for collection of useful data through these methods is quite demanding and time-consuming.
- Maturity of the psychologist is a precondition for obtaining valid data through these techniques.
- Mere presence of the observer may contaminate the results. As a stranger, the observer may influence the behaviour of the person being observed and thus not obtain good data.
Behavioural ratings suffers from the following major limitations :-
(1) Raters often display certain biases that colour their judgments of different traits. For example, most of us are greatly influenced by a single favourable or unfavourable trait. This often forms the basis of a rater’s overall judgment of a person. This tendency is known as the halo effect.
(2) Raters have a tendency to place individuals either in the middle of the scale (called middle category bias) by avoiding extreme positions, or in the extreme positions (called extreme response bias) by avoiding middle categories on the scale. These tendencies can be overcome by providing raters with appropriate training or by developing such scales in which the response bias is likely to be small.
Nominations received may be analysed to understand the personality and behavioural qualities of the person. This technique has been found to be highly dependable, although it may also be affected by personal biases.