The importance of self-knowledge has been acknowledged through the ages and across cultures. A visitor to the temple of Apollo at Delphi in ancient Greece was commanded to “Know Thyself” and Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu wrote that “self-knowledge is enlightenment”. Self-knowledge is different from knowledge of the objective world. It is, by definition, subjective and is thus not easily obtained. Sigmund Freud and Carl Rogers, two of the most influential psychotherapists of the last century, theorised that people have a hidden personality of which they are not aware. It is this unconscious nature of personality that creates epistemological hurdles and makes self-knowledge a difficult to obtain treasure.
Many different types of psychometric tests have been developed to measure personality or other aspects of the self. These types of tests are used in clinical settings and research but are also widely used for recruitment and leadership development. Most published tests in the management context are the Meyers Briggs indicator and the Work Personality Index.
The Forer Workstyle Inventory test has been developed to improve insight into the dynamics of personality testing. The testing mechanism is based on the work by American psychologist Bertram Forer and research into personality dynamics by Swiss philosophical psychologist Carl Gustav Jung.1
This test is structured following trait theory. A personality trait is a habitual pattern of behaviour, thought and emotion. Traits are relatively stable over time, differ among individuals and influence behaviour. The relationship between personality and behaviour is the reason personality testing is popular in management, which in essence is aimed at influencing the behaviour of employees to achieve objectives. The Forer Workstyle Inventory has been explicitly designed with the professional workplace in mind. The Forer personality system consists of five traits:
- Energy (SM)
- Intellect (EA)
- Perspective (FG)
- Activity (IO)
- Amity (STAR)
Each of these traits is closely related to an aspect of personality salient in professional circumstances. For each trait, two opposed preferences are defined that make up the workstyle Inventory, as illustrated in Figure 1 below.
Preferences to each trait are calculated using the algorithm below. This principle leads to a total of 32 possible personality types, for example, SEGI* or MAFO. The five individual traits are outlined below.
Energy relates to the time and speed, i.e. the efficiency at which people undertake tasks. The two preferences within the energy trait are marathonist and sprinter.Energy relates to the time and speed, i.e. the efficiency at which people undertake tasks. The two preferences within the energy trait are the marathonist and the sprinter.
The Marathonist works persistently to achieve great things over the long term. People in with this personality trait preference genus work persistently, achieving great things over the long run. Archetypal professions that match this work style preference are lawyers, parents, politicians, scientists, spiritualists, teachers, executives and engineers. These professions rely on an ability for endurance to get the job done over long periods of time. Engineering projects often last for years and require persistence and stamina. Parents also need to be marathonists because a child is a life-long project that is never over.
People classified as Sprinter personality are the type of person who can be relied upon to get the job done very quickly. Archetypal professions that match this workstyle preference are surgeons, physicians, publicists, traders, retailers, entertainers, nurses and accountants. These professions rely on an ability to quickly turn over work in a short term of time, continuously under pressure to undertake the next task. The sprinter can get the job done quickly and get it done well, as opposed to the marathonist. A manager with sprinter aspects will be able to work on long-term projects, but prefers to chop the task into many small manageable bits.
This trait is a predictor of mental preferences. Some people are very knowledgeable in one particular area. Other people are more generic thinkers and use first principles to find solutions. The two options within the intellect trait are expert and analyst.
The Expert preference genus consists of people with a great depth of expertise that you bring to your organisation. Expert occupations are lawyers, physicians and surgeons. Knowledge is also required for retailers because they need to know their product very well and entertainers, as they are specialised in their specific area.
Analysts are valued for their ability to find useful solutions among the chaos. They are the opposite of experts in that analysts don’t rely on previous knowledge, but assess every situation on its own merits, starting at first principles.
Perspective relates to people’s ability to concentrate on one task or prefer multitasking. The two preferences within the perspective trait are focal and generalist.
Professionals with a Focal orientation can focus knowledge and effort with high intensity. Professions, where this trait is notably present, are the scientist, the engineer and the accountants. Eye for detail is also important for traders, retailers, surgeons, spiritualists and lawyers.
A Generalist is somebody with an authoritative breadth of knowledge that is valued by others. Generalists are valuable to organisations because they can be used to solve a variety of tasks.
The Activity dimension or trait relates to the role people naturally take in a group work situation. The two preferences within the activity trait are implementer and organiser.
The Implementer is the person that is right into the action. If this appears in your work style inventory, then you are the person in your organisation that people look to get the job done. Implementers are lawyers, parents, politicians and scientists. These are generally solitary occupations, where you need to rely on your ability to getting things done. These are examples of Marathonist implementers as they usually work on long-term projects.
If the Organiser type is in your work style inventory, people look to you for leadership and your problem-solving skills on any project. The organiser is not the person doing the work. Instead, they are the ones coordinating others to ensure they collectively work towards a common goal. Typical professions for this trait dimension are the engineer and the executive. They are in jobs where the work in large teams and no one person can achieve the end goal by themselves. Teachers are also examples of organisers as it is the students that do the learning, the teacher is a mere conduit, helping students to master the material.
The closing aspect of the inventory is amity, or the ability of people to relate to each other and form friendships. Amity is indicated by attaching a Star to the inventory. People with a star associated with their workstyle inventory are a friendly and supportive team member with a good sense of humour. They are people with a higher level of collective values and can empathise more strongly with their colleagues.
The combinations of the eight preferences within the five traits can be expressed as a four by four matrix of work workstyle preference inventories. The typical profession for each workstyle inventory is illustrative of a job for which these types of preferences are salient. People in these or similar professions with matching workstyle inventory are more likely to be successful than any other combination.
The test outcomes are based on the point score of each answer to the question battery. Each of the twenty-two questions measures a tendency in one particular trait using a five-point Likert scale, which translated into numerical values, with “Strongly Disagree” assigned the value 1, “Disagree” is 2, “Neither Agree nor Disagree” is 3, “Agree” equals 4 and finally “Strongly Agree” assigned the value 5.
Certain questions within each trait have a retrograde polarity.
The value of the responses is corrected by subtracting them from six to measure the true tendency towards the specific trait. All values for each trait are summed, giving a score for each dimension. This multi-item methodology is used to reduce response bias caused by ‘yea-saying’ or ‘nay-saying’, which is accepted as good research practice in psychometrics.2
After completing the test, the scores for individual traits are displayed below the inventory, for example: “SM(12), AE(10), GF(8), IO(20), STAR(13)”. Where SM stands for Energy (Sprinter/Marathonist), AE stands for Intellect (Analyst/Expert), GF is the Perspective trait (Generalist/Focal), and IO is the Activity (Implementer/Organiser) trait score. STAR is the score for Amity, which is a dichotomous variable.
The energy dimension is measured using a four-question battery (reversed items marked by an asterisk):
- 2. I’d prefer to work on a long-term project
- 17. I prefer to see lots of small results quickly*
- 18. The journey is more important than the destination
- 19. I like to work on small projects that can be completed quickly*
The type is determined by the dimension score, which for the energy trait can be between 4 and 20. Values smaller than or equal to 12, indicate a Sprinter type while values larger than zero indicate a Marathonist type.
The battery to measure the intellect trait consists of five items, of which the first and last have a retrograde polarity (marked by an asterisk):
- 7. I’m confident that I’m a better problem solver than most people*
- 8. I often worry about the future
- 10. Learning new skills is more valuable than using an old one
- 16. I enjoy examining large amounts of data
- 21. I prefer to use my prior knowledge than to learn a new approach to a problem*
The dimension score can range between 5 and 25. Values smaller than or equal to 15 are typical of the Expert type, while values larger than zero are typical for Analyst types.
Perspective is measured using four items. Items number 4 and 11 are retrograde, marked by an asterisk:
- 3. I need regular updates of everything going on around me
- 4. Most of what goes on around me is irrelevant and uninteresting*
- 5. I prefer to work in a small business rather than a large organisation
- 11. I get excited by the details*
This dimension ranges between 4 and 20. Values lower than or equal to 12 are assessed as the Focal type, while values larger than zero are typed Generalist.
The activity dimension is measured using four items. Retrograde items are once again marked with an asterisk:
- 1. When I cook, I prefer to make it up as a go along rather than follow a recipe
- 6. People see me as a leader
- 12. I don’t need a map when I travel*
- 20. I prefer to follow clear instructions rather than develop new ones*
This dimension ranges between 4 and 20. Values lower than or equal to 12 are assessed as the Implementor type, while values larger than zero are typed Organiser.
Five items are asked to measure amity, of which only item 15 is of retrograde polarity:
- 9. I have an above average sense of humour.
- 13. People often tell me that I’m funny
- 14. I often tell jokes
- 15. I don’t laugh out loud very often*
- 22. I’m a lot of fun to be around
Of the possible scores between 5 and 25, values larger than 15 are assigned a Star to their personality inventory. Scores lower or equal than 15 are ignored.
The Forer Workstyle Inventory personality test has been designed to assess the relationship between construct validity and face validity. More concretely, the experiment has been developed to investigate whether a personality test with a very low construct validity can score high on face validity. Or in simple terms, will respondents to a personality test that makes no sense nevertheless believe in its accuracy?
Personality is considered a psychological construct—a phenomenon that can only be observed indirectly. Personality itself can be best described as the software in our mind that makes us behave the way we do. Because personality as such cannot be measured, only indirect methods are available to us. The most common method of measuring personality is by asking subjects to respond to a series of statements which describe their day to day behaviour. Developing a valid personality test is difficult because there is no independent calibration mechanism to check the survey outcomes. There is no fixed standard to which we compare the results obtained from the psychometric test with the actual software in the mind of the subject.
Psychologists have developed mathematical methods to ascertain the construct validity of a test. This is the degree to which a test measures what it claims to be measuring, i.e. the personality of a subject. A test is also assessed by the level of face validity, which is the extent to which participants perceive a test as valid.
The purpose of the Forer Workstyle Inventory is to ascertain whether a test can be developed that has a very low level of construct validity, but a high level of face validity. A personality test that is scientifically invalid, but looks and behaves like a real personality test and is assessed by users as accurate. Can a test be developed which is scientifically entirely inaccurate, but is rated highly by respondents?
The objective for this project was to reproduce a variant of the experiments conducted by Bertram Forer in 1949.3 Forer asked respondents to complete a survey and then proceeded to give all students the same answer. The difference with our experiment is that each participant receives their fake personality profile based on the input they provided. The algorithm of the Forer Workstyle Index is fixed and respondents who provide different answers will a different the same results.
The results of this test do not reveal any information beyond what has been entered by the subject. The results are only a linguistic rearrangement of the answers. This concept is confirmed by recent research that showed that most people could guess the outcome of personality tests without actually undertaking them.4
The Forer Workstyle Inventory is a fully open personality test. All data is available to interested parties. Refer to the methodology page to review details of the test algorithm. To enable reproducibility of research the raw data and computational code are also made available to interested parties.
Statistical analysis has been undertaken using R Project for Statistical Computing, a free software environment for statistical computing and graphics. The R package psych has been used for psychometric analysis.5
A total of 401 completed responses have been collected to date with 1.6% of data points missing. Besides completing the personality inventory items, respondents were also asked to provide their year of birth, gender, the highest level of education and profession.
A total of 178 female (44%) and 223 (56%) male respondents completed the survey. There is a higher tendency for males than for women participating in the test. The chi-square goodness of fit procedure was employed to test how likely the reported gender asymmetry is based on coincidence. This analysis revealed a low likelihood of this being the case, resulting in a statistically significant difference between genders participation rates (X2(1, n=401)=5.05, p<.05).
The reason for the observed gender imbalance in test participation is not known. Respondents were randomly recruited using Google advertising and the LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook social media platforms. Social media are reported to show a gender imbalance, with a higher level of female participation—a reverse trend to what has been observed in this personality test.
The mean age of the respondents is 32.7 years (n=377), as displayed in the age pyramid below. Of the respondents whose valid birth year was provided, 53 are part of the Baby Boomer cohort (1946–1964), 105 of the Generation X cohort (1965–1979) and 216 of the Generation Y cohort (1980–1999).
More than 70% of respondents reported having completed a bachelors degree or higher.
Personality Test Analysis
The test has been designed to minimise its internal and external validity while maximising face validity and thus not creating suspicion that the test is invalid. The test is based on trait theory and contains five traits, as outlined above.
The internal reliability of the test items was assessed using Cronbach Alpha. This method determines the proportion of a scale’s total variance that is attributable to a common source. The higher the value for alpha, the more likely the responses to the individual items relate to an underlying personality trait. Analysis showed that all but one of the hypothesised personality traits have an unacceptable low internal consistency. Alpha values lower than 0.50 are generally considered unacceptable, with values larger than 0.70 considered to be reasonable.6
The only trait with an alpha value higher than 0.70 is amity, which is considered to be a reflection of a person’s sense of humour. This outcome could be considered a reflection of the fact that the whole test should be taken with a sense of humour.
|Energy||2, 17, 18 and 19||.22|
|Intellect||7, 8, 10, 16 and 21||-.10|
|Perspective||3, 4, 5 and 11||-.35|
|Activity||1, 6, 12, 20||-.11|
|Amity||9, 13, 14, 15 and 22||.76|
The low levels of internal consistency were confirmed with factor analysis, where only the factors of the amity trait explained a reasonable amount of variance. Given the low values for alpha and problems with factorisation for four of the five traits, the test can be considered to have a low level of construct validity.
After completion of the test, respondents were asked to provide feedback on how accurate this test has described them. Appreciation was rated on a 1–5 Likert scale: “Strongly disagree, Disagree, Neither Agree nor Disagree, Agree and Strongly Agree”.
In the original Forer experiment, the appreciation score was 4.3 (n=39). A slightly lower appreciation score has also been measured for the commercially available Work Personality Index, which is a popular psychometric test for recruitment purposes. The null hypothesis for the Forer Workstyle Inventory is that the average response would be “Neither Agree nor Disagree”. This value is for appreciation if it was randomly distributed. Expressed mathematically:
H0: appreciation = 3
65% of respondents completed the appreciation score. The mean appreciation score for the Forer Workstyle Preference personality test was 3.8 (n=261). To determine if there is a significant difference between the measured score and the null-hypothesis a Wilcoxon signed-rank test was used. Of the 261 observations, 199 participant’s responses (76%) were higher then 3 (V=23211, n=261, p<2.2*10-16). Given the extremely low likelihood that the difference between the null hypothesis and the measured value is based on coincidence, it can be concluded that respondents were convinced of the validity of the personality test. The test thus has high face validity.
The appreciation scores were tested for confounding influences. Only the age of respondents had a small but significant correlation with the amity score. The older the respondent, the lower the appreciation score (r(374) = -.12, p <.05).
The original objective to develop a test with a low level of construct validity, but a high level of face validity has been successful. The face validity scores for the Forer Workstyle Inventory replicate the original experiment by Forer and are comparable with the results obtained from commercially available tests commonly used in recruitment.
Comprehensive self-knowledge can thus not be obtained by completing surveys because they can only reveal the perceived self and are not capable of unearthing the inner (subconscious) self. Psychometric tests, such as the Forer Workstyle Inventory are only suitable as a vehicle for introspection, providing an entry point for reflecting on one’s self. This introspection can, however, not occur without life experience to reflect on.
Obtaining self-knowledge, considered essential for leadership development, requires something deeper and more substantial. As Friedrich Nietzsche once proclaimed:
One’s own for well hidden for one’s own; and of all treasure troves, one’s own is the last to be excavated …
As situational variables predominately control our behaviour, the only way to obtain self-knowledge is life-experience. Only by being exposed to a multitude of situations and challenges can we know what our personality is. As we gain life experience, our inner and perceived selves slowly converge. Maturity is the situation where the inner self and the perceived self are almost identical, and self-knowledge becomes apparent. Even the most carefully designed personality test can not leapfrog the knowledge obtained through life experience. Carl Gustav Jung, who inspired the development of the MBTI recognised this when he wrote:
Anyone who wants to know the human psyche … would be better advised to abandon exact science … and wander with human heart through the world.’
This foray into personality testing leaves me to conclude that no psychometric test can ever replace the fullness of life experience to obtain true self-knowledge. Experiences such as exposing oneself to challenging situations, occasionally exploring the boundaries of morality, experiencing different cultures or going through emotional turmoil are the only meaningful ways to gain self-knowledge.
This personality test analysis shows that caution is required when using self-administered personality tests. The face validity observed in respondents to the test can be easily transferred to managers interpreting the tests.
- B.R. Forer, (1949) The fallacy of personal validation: A classroom demonstration of gullibility. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 44(1): 118–123; C.G. Jung (1971), Psychological Types. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
- Churchill, G.A. (1979) A paradigm for developing better measures of marketing constructs, Journal of Marketing Research, (19): 64–73; Wason, P.J. and Johnson-Laird, P.N. (1972) Psychology of Reasoning. Structure and Content, B.T. Batsford, London.
- Forer, B. R. (1949). The fallacy of personal validation: a classroom demonstration of gullibility. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 44(1), 118–123.
- A. Furnham, & G. Dissou (2007). The relationship between self-estimated and test derived scores of personality and intelligence. Journal of Individual Differences, 28 (1), 37–44.
- R Core Team. (2012). R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing. Vienna, Austria. Retrieved from www.R-project.org; Revelle, W. (2013). psych: Procedures for Psychological, Psychometric, and Personality Research. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University. Retrieved from CRAN.R-project.org/package=psych.
- DeVellis, R. F. (2011). Scale Development: Theory and Applications (3rd ed.). SAGE Publications.