Hogwarts and Police Psychology

Posted: October 26, 2015 in Public Information Bureau
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Hogwarts and Police Psychology

by Drs. Gary Aumiller and Scott Stubenrauch (Guest Blogger)

What if we told you that Hogwarts was real and police psychology is used frequently with the new students? What if there really was a Sorting Hat that could define your personality and place you into a specific house? However, instead of four houses (Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw), there are five: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (OCEAN). Which one would you choose? Well, if you have a proclivity for adventure and a vivid imagination, you would most likely be sorted into ‘Openness’. Alternatively, if you consider yourself to be more compassionate and empathetic, then 15 points for Agreeableness! Quirky are you? – perhaps Neuroticism.

These five ‘houses’ are actually known in Police Psychology as the ‘Big Five’. These five traits make up what we know to be as someone’s “personality” at least in some theories. You may be thinking to yourself: “Why these five traits? I mean, of all the adjectives we would use to describe my colleague’s personality, none would be so pleasant (and censored) as any of the aforementioned words above. I mean the guy’s a complete jerk. And don’t even get me started on his hygiene…” What? You’re still here…? Oh… this is awkward.  Anyway, to figure out why these five personality traits were picked, we must understand the history of a psychologist named Raymond Cattell, his involvement with factor analysis, and why he is so important to the field of Psychology.

The Importance of Personality Screening

Raymond Cattell was a psychologist who lived in the 1900’s to the 1990’s. He was very interested in how everything was correlated. He used ‘Factor Analysis’, a statistical method used to weed out all the unnecessary variables (factors) that shouldn’tPOLICE PSYCHOLOGY, testing be considered in an analysis. For example, we all know a person’s behavior is comprised of many different factors. Cattell was able to take over 20,000 words that served as descriptors of personality, and through Factor Analysis, he was able to narrow down all the personality traits into 16 relevant factors that make up a person’s full personality profile. In Cattell’s own words, “For psychology to take its place as an effective science, we must become less concerned with grandiose theory than with establishing, through research, certain basic laws of relationship.” Factor Analysis is this complex technique where you throw in a bunch of questions totally unrelated and you get them separated into clusters based on themes, which become a single factor. One of the authors did this on his dissertation, way back when, with computer cards and a couple of days of waiting. Cattell did it with paper and pencil and a slide rule (which is an ancient mathematical torture device that only two students in any class could figure out before computers were around). Nowadays, you can probably do factor analysis on an iPad in seconds.

Thus, Cattell developed the ‘Sixteen Personality Factor (16PF®) Questionnaire’. This test is equivalent to the ‘sorting hat’ of Hogwarts—it can identify your personality, predict which career you would be most likely to pursue, and how well or not so well you may perform in a given position (although it doesn’t sing a catchy song while doing so). Later on, these 16 relevant factors were further narrowed down into the “Big Five” traits as we know them today.

The Institute for Personality and Ability Testing (IPAT), Inc. publishes the 16PF Questionnaire, which is now in its 5th edition. Their clients who use it do so to screen through interested job applicants, identify and develop leaders, provide insights for those looking to explore a college major or new career, and to aid in individual and couples counseling. It has great predictive research and selection reports for police and other first responder personnel. And—in case you haven’t guessed yet—Cattell founded this institution and his family led it until 2007.

As we’re sure you know from reading previous blog posts on this site, those of us in police psychology are very concerned with the various personality traits of our uniformed personnel. It is crucial to know how a policeman would react in a high-stress situation; would he run away or into the fray? (What is a fray, by the way?) Call his mom? Take a selfie? Curl up into a fetal position and cry? Break the law? Enforce the law? None of the above? As it turns out, tests have shown that ‘protective service officers’ are more likely to be cool and collected under pressure. But we don’t limit these personality tests to police officers. If one’s personality isn’t properly understood, he/she could end up in the wrong profession. This is why Raymond Cattell’s 16PF Questionnaire is so important—to ensure that you don’t hire a vegan to be a butcher, an agoraphobic as a public speaker, or the local drug dealer as your pharmacist.  And IPAT, the company started by Cattell (did we tell you that?) has an assessment tool that is perfect for predicting law enforcement officers success on the job. No wonder we like IPAT so much!

Harry Potter changed the world of wizards and muggles when he killed Voldemort (He-who-must-not-be-named). He was a wizard with special power and a vision to be able to defeat Voldemort and return the balance to the world. The author, J.K. Rowling, used tremendous creativity to make you constantly say to yourself “How did she think of that?” Cattell, too, had a special power and a vision. He had the power to see personality characteristics as having a problem of content validity (making up the content arbitrarily) and the vision to apply a complicated mathematical concept to solve the problem. He also had creativity as he created not only the 16PF Questionnaire, but a Culture Fair Intelligence Test, the concept of crystallized and fluid intelligence, and numerous ability tests. And he created the company IPAT to keep his tests alive and to allow the police psychology world to have a choice for testing.

So, similar to Hogwarts without Harry, we do not know what police psychology would be without Raymond Cattell. What we do know, his name covered three questions on the most recent Psychology GRE; IPAT is an essential publisher of testing in police selection; and we are still writing about Cattell years later. He must have had something going for him.

Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.

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