For my PSYC 406 class this semester, I completed some of my classmates’ quizzes. Most of the topics they assessed could be regarded as aspects of a personality profile — my own quiz included. Some of the ones I completed looked at procrastination, locus of control, altruism, impulsivity, and even narcissism, to name a few. As I was filling them in, I noticed something in the way I was answering their questions: I was lying — to them and to myself.
As a 20 year old university student, I feel as though I have an image to uphold. And as long as we’re being honest, so do most of us. No one wants to be seen as a major procrastinator or as a person who blames others when they fail. More importantly, no one wants to be viewed as narcissistic, unkind, or too impulsive. As the laws of social desirability can demonstrate, humans have a natural tendency to display themselves in a positive manner. But can this have an effect on how we answer quizzes like personality assessments? It sure can.
“Do you often wait until just a few days before an assignment is due before starting it?” I responded no, when in fact I rarely start my assignments ahead of time. “Do you often act without thinking?” I answered no, but this was also untrue, as I have made many lousy last minute decisions without putting any thought into them. Even though the questionnaires were 100% anonymous, I still answered in a socially desirable way. Perhaps then the issue was not looking good in the eyes of others, but it was a matter of self-deception. Such answers were nevertheless a deviation from reality and may have altered my true score.
Social desirability presents a challenge for psychological testing, and I witnessed it firsthand as a test-maker and test-taker throughout this process. It is just one of many biases that can get in the way of an otherwise well written self-report questionnaire.
Student number: 260640563
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