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No More Fake It Till You Make It, NC State Researchers Develop Fake-Resistant Personality Test


Personality tests have become a common feature in the professional world. They are meant to tell candidates or employees who they are and how they fit into a group. But personality tests have their own character flaw: they can be faked. The test-taker can manipulate the questionnaire to deliver answers they think their employer wants to hear.

Researchers at North Carolina State University and at the Center for Creative Leadership have developed a new type of personality test that uses a rapid response method to reduce participant’s ability to fake their answers.

Host Frank Stasio speaks with NC State professor of psychology Adam Meade about the benefits of this new test. They also discuss how personality tests can help weed out applicants who may not fit a certain company culture.


Adam Meade on what "personality" actually means:

If you think about what impacts behavior, it's a mixture of your situation that you're in. So for example if you're in what's called a strong situation, like a funeral, you see people behave largely the same. There's not a lot of variability there. And if you're in a weak situation, which is something unstructured, people are much more free to behave according to their natural tendencies. So personality is not really the same thing as like a self-concept or your core identity or anything like that. It's really the types of behaviors that you tend to want to engage in sort of left to your own devices.

On a major issue with personality tests:

Many of [the tests] are transparent, and so one of the things employers struggle with is this notion of faking. So people present themselves in a way that they want to be seen rather than the way that they truly are. So you're not really getting those true behavioral tendencies anymore. You're getting someone's managed impression of themselves.

How to get people to truthfully answer personality tests:

By asking them, and in fact forcing them, to respond quickly. It pushes people out of that impression management mode. They really don't have time to think about how they want to be seen because they're so busy answering the question and then they immediately get another adjective on screen. But they really aren't able to manage their impression in the way that they can on a typical test ... There's some research in psychology that suggest that things that are closer to your core concept, your self-schema, are things that are activated more quickly in memory. So the idea is that for things that you see as really relevant to yourself, you can generate a response very quickly to that adjective. So if it takes you two or three seconds to say you're decisive, you're probably not that decisive. 

Note: This program originally aired September 6, 2018.


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Laura Pellicer is a digital reporter with WUNC’s small but intrepid digital news team.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.