Posts Tagged ‘testing’

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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Laurence Miller, PhD

BALTIMORE (Associated Press) — “A psychological firm paid to evaluate troubled Baltimore police, including a lieutenant charged in the killing of Freddie Gray, is under investigation by the city and has been put on probation by the state police for cutting corners in its mental health screenings of officers. An investigation showed that the company’s psychologists were completing evaluations of officers’ mental stability in 15 minutes instead of the 45 minutes required by the state contract. Experts say 15 minutes is far too short to adequately conduct psychological assessments, either for police applicants or officers seeking to return to active duty.” (

Reports from my police psychologist colleagues and communications from police officer applicants who feel like they’ve been unfairly bumped from consideration for law enforcement positions suggest that the above story is not an isolated incident. Accordingly, it’s important to appreciate the proper role of psych screenings in the law enforcement hiring process.

Why do a psych screening?

Law enforcement is a high-stress, people-intensive profession. Before a department invests the time and resources in hiring, training, and fielding an officer, it wants to be reasonably sure that officer will be able to perform his or her job, will not pose a risk or danger to the public, and won’t create a liability for the department.

What are they looking for?

Not paragons of mental health, just candidates that are reasonably stable, mature, and responsible. The law enforcement pre-employment psych screening is actually a rather course net designed to catch significant mental disturbance or personality disorder that would be incompatible with the role of a police officer. It is unlikely that an officer candidate with a severe psychotic, mood, personality, or substance abuse disorder would get through this net, but smaller psychological fish, such as erratic mood swings, narcissistic entitlement, under-the-radar alcohol misuse, or extreme prejudicial beliefs, just might wriggle through the meshwork. One common mistake of officer candidates is pretending to be too perfect and then getting bounced for dishonest exaggeration.

What does the exam consist of?

The exact content and procedure of pre-employment screenings can vary widely from agency to agency, but ideally, a competent pre-employment psych screen should contain at least two main elements: (1) a clinical interview; and (2) one or more standardized psychological tests. During the clinical interview, the psychologist asks a range of questions about the candidate’s background, work history, current lifestyle, any symptoms or problems she may be experiencing, and what his expectations are about the job.

A properly conducted law enforcement psychological interview should not feel like an interrogation; in fact, it shouldn’t be any more adversarial than other type of job

interview. The number of psychological tests employed may range from one to a dozen, but typically, between two and four well-standardized measures will be administered. In fact, the typical candidate spends more time hunched over a set of bubble tests with a number-2 pencil in his hand than he spends face-to-face with the psychologist. Another reason for answering questions honestly is that many of these tests have built-in measures for detecting inconsistency and exaggeration.

How are the results determined?

Usually, the examiner will weigh three things: (1) impressions from the clinical interview, (2) the psychometric test results, and (3) the material obtained from a review of the applicant’s past medical, employment, and other records. These factors are then placed into a kind of formula that yields one of several determinations, often expressed in terms of low, medium, or high risk of projected future performance problems on the job. The rationale for these conclusions is provided in the text of a written report that is then sent to the law enforcement agency’s hiring committee for them to consider along with all the other data they use to make the final hiring decision.

Who does these evaluations?

And that’s the crux of the problem. The quality of these assessments is only as good as the training, expertise, and experience of the evaluators. And as the title story indicates, contracts for these services are typically awarded to multi-staffed psychological “assessment centers” (which often do evals for firefighters, paramedics, and other public safety personnel as well as police departments) on a low-bid basis, who then recruit

psychological examiners to work on an independent-contract basis who, in turn, are willing to work on a high-volume, low-fee basis. So now you have the pleasure of knowing that the evaluator who’s making a determinative decision about your entire career got his or her job, not necessarily because of any special credentials or qualifications, but because he or she was the cheapest deal on the block.

Having said that, I know a number of very competent, very professional psychologists who do pre-employment screenings, and usually other types of police psychological work as well. But these are typically independent practitioners, not test-mill employees, and I guarantee they’re not doing their evals in 15 minutes – or even 45 minutes. Realistically, it’s going to take at least a couple of hours to conduct a valid pre-employment psychological screening for any high-level profession, including clinical interview, psych testing, and preparing the report.

Evaluators who cannot competently and ethically offer these services should not be doing this work, and law enforcement agencies who will not pay for valid screenings should not be hiring. The repercussions of sloppy assessments for clinicians is an erosion of trust in the field of psychology on the part of law enforcement personnel. The impact on police agencies may be felt in poorer quality of policing, increased citizen complaints, and higher liability to the department in negligent hiring and retention lawsuits, just one of which can erase the “savings” from retaining a low-bid assessment center many times over. The public expects police to be professionals; police agencies should expect no less from the psychologists who evaluate their personnel.

Laurence Miller, PhD is a clinical, forensic, and police psychologist based in Boca Raton, Florida. He can be reached at This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific clinical or legal advice.


Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.

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