The origin & development of psychometrics
Sir Francis Galton
We can credit the invention of psychometrics to Sir Francis Galton – Charles Darwin’s half-cousin, and a similarly clever chap.
Galton, a 19th-century polymath (who also invented scientific meteorology), wanted to better understand the mind, and the concept of ‘personality’. That’s what drove him to create the first personality test – a questionnaire asking his fellow smarties at the Royal Society of London about themselves.
A little later on, in the mid-1880s, academic James Cattell coined the term “mental test” to describe a number of assessments he felt measured “simple mental processes” linked to intelligence. Where Galton tried to measure personality, Cattell was instead an early pioneer of what we now call aptitude tests.
That said, it was one of Cattell’s students, Alfred Wissler, who proved that there was no statistical relationship between performance in Cattell’s tests and future academic performance. In fact, it wasn’t until psychologist Alfred Binet invented the “intelligence test”in 1901 that there was a truly valid way to measure individual differences linked to intelligence. Binet used his test, now known as an early IQ test, to discover learning difficulties in children.
First & Second World War
Another famous example of how psychometrics progressed was their use in the First and Second World War. Both the US and Britain used personality tests to check for neuroses that would make soldiers more likely to suffer from ‘shell shock’. In 1915, the condition (now what we’d call PTSD) was sending about 15% of all British soldiers home.
Just two years after the US had entered WW1, they’d tested more than 1,700,000 soldiers with a questionnaire that would later be called the ‘Psychoneurotic Inventory’. It had about 100 questions, though almost all of these focused on traits considered to be ‘negative’. Testers in WW2 took the same approach – looking for traits that would make people a ‘poor fit’ for the front lines.
Although the first example of expanded personality testing, including aspects of introversion, extroversion and social dominance, arrived in 1931, it didn’t become a prevalent approach until the 1960s and ‘70s. It’s also worth mentioning that, while the content would naturally develop, the format stayed question-based until modern digital technology made new approaches possible…
Psychometric tests today
The last half-decade has seen psychometric testing become an increasingly common sight in the world of work – mostly in talent acquisition. In fact, 75% of The Times Top 100 UK Companies list were using such tests by 2017. Across the Atlantic, more than 80% of Fortune 500 employers use them too.
And, although many of these are still using the same questionnaires that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the ‘60s and ‘70s, there are a growing number that are turning to other formats – like our behaviour-based assessment.
Arctic Shores’ assessment
While we can’t claim to have invented the psychometric assessment, we’re fairly happy to say we’ve taken it to a new frontier. Rather than asking questions (what’s known as self-report, where candidates tell you about their own personality), we let your candidates show their natural strengths in action.
How do we do that? By turning established neuroscience experiments into engaging online tasks. No questions means less anxiety for candidates, no room for faking, and an authentic picture of their unique potential. And, by replacing manual CV review with truly objective insight, it overcomes our natural human biases too.