Psychometrics, Psychographics and Psycholinguistics

Have you ever noticed that your social media applications often advertise the products you seem to be interested in?

More and more, we notice a new trend of using psychological testing as a convenient way in the market, to enhance the selection of individuals, their engagement, personality profiling and even evaluation of actions. It appears that the time is ripe for psychological profiling in the business sector and when used correctly, they can offer valuable information about an individual’s preferences, behaviour and overall personality. Yet, there is an ambiguity around the concepts; they are used interchangeably in the communication and even exploited by the deceitful websites.

Have you ever taken a quiz on BuzzFeed or any other internet established website to find out about your personality, or which Harry Potter house you belong to? Or better yet, a test to find out your suitability for a profession, based on some random questions! If yes, then you must have an idea about the credibility of these tests, based on the results you get. But then there are those websites as well that offer “reliable” personality testing to find out about yourself. Sure enough, they use some psychological terminologies in their questions and follow models to make it look credible, often using the OCEAN model of personality, and lure people to assess themselves. However, these psychometric tests lack any authenticity. It is a ploy to get maximum response from the consumers.

So far, psychometrics have been used widely in the corporate and business sector, to evaluate the personalities and behaviours of employees during the recruitment process, to gain maximum value. A few educational institutes also employ psychometrics to gather an in-depth assessment of the students. The idea behind the use of psychometrics is to measure concepts such as thoughts, values, traits, interests and feelings, that were deemed immeasurable at one point.

They are claimed to estimate the personality profile of a person and give an insight into the behavioural and emotional responsiveness of a person. Suffice to say that psychometrics has found its place in almost every industry, but what exactly are psychometric tests?

Psychometrics is commonly used in behavioural sciences, especially psychology concerned with the techniques and theory of psychological measurement. According to the concept it measures a person’s attitudes, knowledge, abilities and personality attributes. The reason psychometrics is used in organizational development and employee recruitment lies in the study of individual differences. Companies want to categorise people based on measurable facets and target the right candidates for maximum productivity. However, it is imperative that you recognise the limitations of psychometrics at the core of its conception; a procedure or an instrument is constructed to measure individual behaviour, personality, and attitudes. In order to quantify the ‘psyche’ or the personality of people, these classic instruments or tests are structured with standardised answers. It does not take much to wonder that giving a range of possible answers, that are fixed in advance, could only limit one’s responses. This limitation or framework of psychometrics begs the question; is it actually a reliable tool to reveal the true information about a person’s personality and a solid predictor of his/her behavior in the future?

If you are hiring a person, admitting a student, or targeting a consumer, you need valid and accurate data about that person, without any bias. Personality testing should assess the innate facets of people and one cannot ‘prepare’ for them like an exam, regardless of taking it again and again. Assuming an employer wants to benefit from the relevant information and constructive feedback about the employee that a psychometric test claims to offer, he will need honesty and spontaneity in the responses as much as possible. Yet, it is next to impossible to completely eliminate certain limitations, such as social desirability bias, i.e. one’s attempt to give the answers that he/she believes will leave a good impression. Without accurate data, the inferences drawn from it will also be considered unreliable and inaccurate and hence, result in failure of the recruitment process in the marketing.

In the wake of data inaccuracy or data contamination, due to people responding without paying any attention, or paying too much attention to appear competent and professional, other tools are explored to gather, analyse and apply the data, to get a better and accurate understanding. Psychographics, a methodology that gained prominence during the election campaigns, has been used recently in understanding consumer behaviour and predicting it. You can understand it as a qualitative approach which describes diverse traits of humans on psychological attributes. In other words, psychographics is also used to gain insight into a person’s personality, attitudes, values, interests, opinions and overall lifestyle. Interestingly, psychographics helps to understand the cognitions behind a behaviour, such as your opinion and how it is reshaped under a situation. In contrast to psychometrics, psychographics gives you detailed, qualitative data, instead of quantifying the personality traits.

Have you ever noticed that your social media applications often advertise the products you seem to be interested in? Why do you think that happens?

The answer is: Cambridge Analytica – a secret ghost tool named psychographics. Psychographics has been recently used by marketers to understand and predict consumer behaviour, beyond simple demographics. Let’s say; why does a 37-year-old Linda buy a certain type of cat food than the other? Instead of focusing on the demographics, the addition of psychographic analysis now provides clear profiling of values, needs and attitudes towards a certain product, or under certain situations. Coming towards the organizational industry, psychographics has been used to predict employee performance and delegation of work, to achieve productivity by understanding the needs, values, hobbies and the overall personality of an individual. You can ask someone as simple a question as what did they do over the weekend? You can conduct surveys, access the social media information (posts, tweets or likes) or simply exchange some messages with them. That information from these interactions is critical in psychographics, as it will generate an accurate representation of one’s personality.

A threat to the data inaccuracy and its contamination will be controlled with psychographics because a person without the fear of making an impression will be open and honest about his/her needs, values and actions. Let’s say you have developed a psychographic profile on Mark based on the information available about him and interactions with him. Now you can know why Mark is an extrovert and likes to engage with people and why he reacts the way he does under stress. People are unique creatures, they think differently, they want different things and behave differently all the time. Psychographics is a powerful tool which identifies the individuality and targets the behaviour accordingly. In marketing, consumer or employee behaviour is the result of a psychological process that makes it an optimal target for assessment. One needs to accept that where demographics used to be the king once; now psychographics are the rule. On daily basis, businesses leverage consumer behaviour to drive more marketing campaigns, personalise connections and acquire new customers, without any threat of personal bias.

Talking about individual interaction to gain a better understanding and acquiring true data, there is another field of behavioural sciences known as psycholinguistics. The psychology of language or psycholinguistics is simply an interrelation between psychological aspects and language. What makes psycholinguistics different? The role of cognitive faculties in the use of ordinary language – when I say ordinary language, I mean no such thing as writing an email, reading a book, or giving a presentation at work, it means simply using words based on social and psychological processes. With a lot of focus on psychological assessment in different areas, psycholinguistics has also garnered significance with the simple use of language. It gives a broader playground to communicate with another person, without the need to think, assume and conceal one’s psychological processes. Unlike psychometrics, in which if you assess a person about his smoking habits, you give a test such as a questionnaire, do you think a person smoking 20-30 cigarettes a day will give you the true data? Or the fact that an employee will not try to appear emotionally stable by checking out the ‘right’ boxes? Of course, a sensible person will figure it out in no time.

But with psycholinguistics slowly findings its way into the psychological assessment, it focuses on simple constructs i.e. Language and cognition. You can say that by simply talking to someone or chatting about anything, you will find true data to analyse psychological processes. A number of variables including the communication style, texts, use of phrases and even grammar serve as a marker of personality assessment. People tend to hide the truth during the interviews or in documents, but it is much more difficult to change your communication style in a casual interaction! Now that we have discussed these methods and tools being used for the purpose of psychological assessment, it is not only crucial for marketers and organizations to understand the authenticity and utility of each, but it is equally important for you to know the reliability, before you start self-assessments on silly websites!

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