Why Validity Matters

Personality psychology concerns three questions. First, in what important ways are people all alike? This question involves analyzing the nature of human nature. Second, in what important and systematic ways are people all different? This question concerns individual differences. The third question concerns how to measure, in a reliable and valid manner, important individual differences in personality? These measures can then be used to predict practical outcomes—e.g., job performance, career and financial success.

But why are personality data so useful? The reason is simple: (1) The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior; (2) A person’s personality (defined in terms of observer’s ratings) is the summary of that person’s past behavior; so that (3) Personality (defined in terms of observers’ ratings) is the best data source we have regarding a person’s future behavior. Our assessments are keyed into observer ratings and provide an objective way to predict a wide variety of life outcomes, including life expectancy, marital satisfaction , substance abuse, and career and financial success.

The principal statistic used in our research (as well as research in economics, sociology, and medicine) is the Pearson correlation coefficient (r). The value of r can range from -1 (a perfect negative association between two variables) to 0 (no relationship between two variables) to +1 (a perfect positive association between two variables). The validity coefficients found in most medical research are below .20. For example, the correlation between smoking and contracting lung cancer within 25 years is .08; the correlation between taking ibuprofen and reduced pain is .14. Typical validities in psychological studies tend to be higher. For example, the correlation between applicants’ scores in a personnel selection interview (which is an inefficient form of personality assessment) and subsequent job performance is .30, and the correlation between IQ scores and school grades is .70. Our research over the past 30 years has produced validity coefficients that are significantly higher than those typically found in published medical or economic research.

Personality and industrial/organizational psychologists use correlation coefficients to predict individual differences in peoples’ present or future performance. The best way to interpret a correlation is in terms of hits and misses. Imagine we have tested 200 sales candidates on the HPI Ambition scale, and then hired all of them; Figure 1 shows the expected percentages of high and low performers as a function of the validity of the ambition scale, using validities of .00, .20, .30, and .50.

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Constructing Integrity

Recent events in politics and business again show the importance of personal integrity in everyday affairs, especially at the leadership level. Our analysis of the psychology of integrity suggests that the topic, although a crucial element in human affairs, is somewhat more paradoxical than it might appear at first blush.

In Memories, Dreams, and Reflections, Carl Jung describes meeting Albert Schweizer (1875-1965), the legendary theologian, organist, philosopher, and physician known for founding a hospital for the poor in Gabon. Schweizer received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952, and by anyone’s standards qualifies as a great moral figure. Jung reported that he spent two days prying at Schweizer, trying to find the neurotic underpinnings for his moral nobility, and he could find nothing. Then Jung noted that he met Schweizer’s wife, and Schweizer’s narcissism was revealed. Similarly, Erik Erikson wrote a psycho-biographical study of Mohandas Ghandi, the “great-souled father” of modern India, the man who invented non-violent civil disobedience as a way of protesting political oppression, and virtually everyone’s prototype of a great moral figure. Erikson was so disgusted by Gandhi’s hypocrisy and narcissism that he almost abandoned the project. Mother Theresa similarly fails to hold up well under close moral scrutiny.

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Pyramid of Success and Personality


June 4th, 2010 marked the passing of basketball coaching legend John Wooden. As many people are aware, Wooden was known as the “Wizard of Westwood” for his unmatched success as coach of the UCLA men’s basketball team, leading them to a record 88 consecutive victories and 10 national championships among other accomplishments. What is less widely publicized is the strategy that Wooden designed and deployed in order to recruit, assess, select, develop, and mentor his players into successful individuals on and off the court. This aspect of the coach’s legend interestingly establishes him as not only an innovator in the sport of basketball, but also a pioneer in the realm of talent management.

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Learn a New Language and Gain a New Soul

Three unrelated events have transpired over the last few weeks that have inspired me to share a message with you that you know all too well: translating meaning from one language to another language (accurately) is very tricky business. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton learned that lesson the hard way when she presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a gift bearing an incorrect translation—one that implied hostility, rather than peacemaking. Clinton presented Lavrov with a orange button which said “Reset” in English and “Peregruzka” in Russian. The problem was, “peregruzka” doesn’t mean reset. It means overcharged, or overloaded. Lavrov called her out on it.

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12 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Personality Assessment


Choosing the right personality assessment for employee selection and leadership development can be mind-boggling. What’s the best solution: recommendations from peers, online research, evaluations in trade magazines? Even more importantly, how can one be sure that a personality assessment provider will supply tools that actually work as advertised? Not all personality assessments are created equal.

Before investing in one, Hogan suggests 12 must-ask questions when choosing an assessment provider.

1. What are the personality assessments designed to do relative to the needs/goals of the customer?

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