the history of psychological profiling
By Robyn Porterfield
In the early 19th century, when astronomers timed the passage of stars overhead, they noticed
they all came up with different results. They chalked these individual differences up to differences
in what they called the "personality" of the eye. Even as far back as the mid-1800's, distinguished
scholars were championing the whole person as a unit of study. From that point forward, individual
psychologists began to conceptualize personality and behavior differently.
sir francis galton
Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911) may properly be called the first practitioner of
psychological testing. It has been said he originated mental tests, and
assumed intelligence could be measured in terms of a person's level of sensory
capacity-the higher the intelligence, the higher the level of sensory discrimination.
Galton also began a long line of research on mental imagery, much of which included the
first extensive use of the psychological questionnaire.
For Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), founder of the psychoanalytic movement, personality consisted of; the ID, the
Ego and the Superego, all of which he believed guided our behavior to an extent. During the 1920's, psychoanalysis
developed as a theoretical system for understanding all of human motivation and personality, not just a treatment
for the mentally disturbed.
William James (1842-1910), often considered the greatest American psychologist, argued that human behavior
was the result of hereditary, habits and/or instincts. Still considered a major contribution to psychology,
The Principles of Psychology (published in 1890)remains one of the
most widely read books in the field.
james mckeen cattell
A contemporary of William James, James McKeen Cattell (1860-1944) is credited with influencing the movement
in American psychology toward a more practical, test-oriented approach to the study of mental processes.
The theme of all his research was the problem of individual difference.
Although it was Cattell who coined the term "mental test," it was Alfred Binet (1857-1911)
who developed the first truly psychological test of mental ability in 1905 to predict school
performance. That test is still in use today as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale.
john b. watson
In the same time as Alfred Binet, John B. Watson (1878-1958) was founding a new trend in psychology-the
behaviorist movement. Although he began his career with the study of animal behavior,
he ended it by studying consumer-buying behavior. Watson exerted a major impact on
advertising in the U.S. through the application of behaviorist principles, which can
still be easily seen and heard in commercials and ads today.
Although once heralded by Freud as the heir apparent to the psychoanalytic movement, Carl Jung (1875-1961)
came to differ with Freud on the direction of the forces that influence the human personality.
Jung believed our behavior was not exclusively shaped by our past childhood experiences, but by our
future hopes, goals and aspirations as well.
Behaviorist B. F. Skinner (1904-1990) argued all behavior, except verbal behavior, was
merely the correlation between a stimulus and a response. He developed a program for behavioral
control of societies, and more than anyone else is responsible for the large-scale use of teaching
machines and techniques of behavior modification.
Prior to World War I only limited attempts had been made to measure personality. For example,
in the late 19th century, a German psychiatrist had used what he called a "free-association" test,
in which patients responded to stimulus words with the first word that came to mind.
During World War I, the U.S. army wanted to know which of its recruits were highly neurotic.
Psychologist Robert Woodworth constructed the "Personal Data Sheet," a self-report instrument that
asked recruits to indicate the neurotic traits that applied to them. Although the Personal Data Sheet saw
little use during the war, it was the prototype for much of the personality profiling currently in use.
raymond b. cattell
Then in 1950, Raymond B. Cattell (1905-1998) suggested that the central problem in personality psychology
was the prediction of behavior. Cattell argued that traits were the central variables in personality and could
be divided into three general categories; dynamic traits-those that set an individual into action to accomplish a goal;
ability traits-which concern the individual's effectiveness in reaching a goal; and temperament traits-which were the
stylistic aspects, like dispositions, moods, and emotions.
Ground breaking work was done during the 1960's by Dr. Robert Guion in the field of personality testing within the
workplace, much of which is reflected in his book Personnel Testing (McGraw-Hill 1965). Dr. Guion focused on testing
candidates for employment as a basis for predicting their probable "fit" in the workplace.
During the 1970's personality testing became increasingly accepted as an invaluable resource to many employers
when selecting employees for hire or promotion. Unfortunately, due to the costs typically associated with these
instruments and their administration, the use of personality testing instruments was limited to larger organizations
and usually only for upper management or key positions.
david w. pearson
In 1978 Dr. David Pearson became one of the first in his field to
produce a software program that could perform a behavioral evaluation of an individual, without requiring
administration by a psychologist or behavioral scientist. Since their development, evaluations of
this type have proven to be invaluable to thousands of organizations when selecting employees for hire or
Today, everyone from psychologists, counselors, teachers and human resource managers use psychological or educational evaluations. There is scarcely a person over the age of ten who has not
taken at least one such test in their lifetime, whether it was an achievement test, an IQ test, a personality
evaluation, or a measure of aptitude in a particular field. The key reason for the increase in test use over the
last 75 years is ethically correct tests are more reliable and accurate than subjective judgments, which often
function as filters when we assess and observe others.
But testing should never be used in a vacuum. As Robert Guion says, "Testing should not be the instrument of decision.
It should be used as a flag that either agrees with or contradicts your impression about a person." At MindData we
agree tests can never replace professional judgment entirely. Rather, they should serve as one source of information
to assist in making accurate and fair decisions when hiring and promoting.
© MindData Systems, Ltd 1999-2018