Actuarial and Biographical Data
This category refers to descriptive data about a person’s life history, educational, professional and medical record, possibly also criminal record. Age, type and years of schooling, nature of completed professional education/vocational training, marital status, current employment and positions held in the past, leisure activities, and past illnesses and hospitalisations are examples of actuarial and biographical data. As a rule, such data is available with optimum reliability and often represents indispensable information, for example, in clinical and industrial/organisational assessments. Special biographical check list-item assessment instruments may be available in a given language and culture for special applications.
This refers to physical traces of human behaviour like handwriting specimen, products of art and expression (drawings, compositions, poems or other kinds of literary products), left-overs after play in a children’s playground, style (tidy or untidy, organised or ‘chaotic’) of self-devised living environment at home, but also attributes of a person’s appearance (e.g., bitten finger nails!) and attire. While at time perhaps intriguing, also within a wider humanistic perspective, the validity of personality assessments based on behaviour traces can be rahter limited. For example, graphology (handwriting analysis) has been known for a long time to fall short of acceptable validity criteria in carefully conducted validation studies (Guilford, 1959; Rohracher, 1969). On the other hand, behaviour trace variables may provide valuable information in clinical contexts and at the process stage of developing assessment hypotheses.
In some sense, behaviour observation will form part of each and every assessment. In the present context the word observation is used in a more restricted sense, though, referring to direct recording/monitoring, describing, and operational classification of human behaviour, over and above what may be already incorporated in the scoring rationale of a questionnaire, an interview schedule, or an objective tests.
In behaviour rating assessments a person is asked to evaluate her/his own behaviour or the behaviour of another person with respect to given characteristics, judgmental scales, or checklist items. The method can be applied to concurrent behaviour under direct observation (as in modern assessment center applications) or, and more typically, to the rater’s explicit or anecdotal memory of the ratee’s behaviour at previous occasions, in (pastor imagined) concrete situations, or in a general sense. Behaviour rating methods may tell more about the mental representations that raters hold (developed, believe in) regarding the assessed person’s behaviour than about that behaviour itself.
Behaviour ratings constitute an essential methodology in clinical and industrial / organisational psychology, in psychotherapy research and, last but not the least, in basic personality research.
As a technical term, expressive behaviour refers to variations in the way in which a person may look, move, talk, express her/his current state of emotion, feelings or motives. Making a grim-looking face, trembling, getting a red face, sweating on the forehead, walking in a hesitant way, speaking loudly or with an anxiously soft voice, would be examples of variations in expression behaviour. Thereby expression refers to stylistic attributes in a person’s behaviour which will induce an observer to draw explicitly or implicitly inferences about that person’s state of mind, emotional tension, feeling state, or the like.
In the 1930s and 1940s many clinical psychologists, often influenced by psychoanalysis and other forms of depth psychology, placed high expectations in projective techniques, believing that they would induce a person to express her / his perception of the ambiguous stimulus material, thus willingly or even unwillingly ‘uncovering’ her/his personal individuality, including motives and emotions that the person may not even be aware of. Later, in the 1950s and 1960s, research has clearly shown that such assessment methods not only tend to lack in scoring objectivity and psychometric reliability, but, and still more important, also turned out to be of very limited validity, if any.
Originally, personality inventories, interest surveys, and attitude or opinion schedules were devised as structured interviews in written, following a multiple choice response format (rather than presenting questions open ended as in an interview proper). In a typical questionnaire each item (question or statement) will be followed by two or three response alternatives such as ‘Yes, Do not know, No’ or ‘True, Cannot say, Untrue’.
Tests constitute the core of psychological assessment instruments; it is through them that psychological assessment has reached its level of scientific credibility and wide range of applications. A test is a sample of items, questions, problems etc. chosen so as to sample, in a representative manner, the universe of items, questions or problems indicative of the trait or state to be assessed, for example, an aptitude or personality trait or a mood state like alertness.
Psycho Physiological Data
All variations in behaviour and conscious experience are nervous system based, with ancillary input from the hormone and the immune system, respectively, and from peripheral organic processes. This should lead us to expect that individual differences as revealed in psychological assessment should be accessible also, and perhaps even more directly so, through monitoring psycho physiological system parameters that relate to the kind of behaviour variations that an assessment is targeted at.