valuators, Not Just Those They Evaluate, Influence Personality Test Results
from Law and Human Behavior
December 2, 2015
When an evaluator assigns a score to a client on a psychological test, the test score is supposed to indicate something about the client, not the evaluator. A series of studies by Marcus T. Boccaccini and colleagues suggest that this is an overly simplistic view of psychological assessment (Boccaccini et al., 2008; 2014).
His team studied the scores that forensic psychologists and psychiatrists assigned to offenders on an evaluator-scored measure of psychopathic personality traits and found that these evaluators differed notably in their scoring tendencies, with some evaluators assigning much higher scores than other evaluators. In other words, the offender’s reported level of psychopathic traits depended on the specific evaluator who administered the test.
One possible explanation for these findings is that some real-world evaluators had not been adequately trained to score the psychopathy measure. To examine this issue, Harris, Boccaccini, and Murrie (2015) (PDF, 73KB) studied the psychopathy measure scores assigned by evaluators who had completed rigorous psychopathy measure training as part of a large study of violence and mental illness.
There was less evidence of scoring differences among these trained evaluators, with only 8% of the variability in scores explained by their scoring tendencies. These findings provide compelling, but indirect support for the benefits of thorough training.
Harris and colleagues also found that psychopathy measure scores from some evaluators were highly predictive of future violence, while scores from other evaluators were not. The one factor that explained these differences in predictive effects was the evaluator’s willingness to assign a broad range of scores on a subtest measuring antisocial traits, especially high scores. Scores from evaluators who rarely or never assigned high scores tended to be poor predictors of future violence, whereas scores from evaluators who assigned both high and low scores tended to be better predictors.
It appears that some evaluators may be too cautious when it comes to assigning appropriately high scores on this subtest, which may be undermining the usefulness of the test. But it remains unclear whether the evaluators who assign similar scores across cases simply see most examinees as having the same level of psychopathic traits, or whether they are using the measure incorrectly.
Harris, P. B., Boccaccini, M. T., & Murrie, D. C. (2015). Rater differences in psychopathy measure scoring and predictive validity. Law and Human Behavior, 39(4), 321-331. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/lhb0000115
Note: This article is in the Forensic Psychology topic area. View more articles in the Forensic Psychology topic area.
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