Friday, October 16, 2009

Tests: Small Samples, Large Consequences

Dahlstrom, W. G. (1993). Tests: Small Samples, Large Consequences. American Psychologist, 4, 393-399.

Human decision making is a complex process, and one which often has large consequences, both positive and negative. However, this process is not uncommonly fraught with errors of judgment. Psychological tests can serve as a means to offset the impact of these distortions. The article gives several examples of proper and improper use of tests, such as the use of the Stanford-Binet to determine a defendant was not fit to stand trial as an adult, overturning recommendations formerly made by a psychiatrist employing informal ad hoc tests. They define a proper psychological test as meeting six key criteria: using standardized materials and procedures, ensuring optimal motivation in test-takers, recording data immediately, scoring objectively, and establishing test norms. The article is summarized nicely: "The samples of behavior that psychologists collect in the brief time that an hourglass takes to empty have been shown to reveal basic aspects of ability, personality, and temperament that are operative over long spans of an individual's life. Proper gathering of these data by means of well-executed administrations of standardized test instruments can provide gatekeepers with invaluable information to minimize risks of errors of judgment in decisions about their clients and increase the range of predictions that can have large consequences in the lives of those with whom they deal."