Is Dr. Frost Doing More Harm Than Good?
The Dangers of Exposure in Psychological Testing
Just who or what is this “Dr. Frost” and why should we care? Dr. Frost is an online comic about the titular character (nicknamed after his signature white hair), a psychology professor who uses his area of expertise to solve cases (troubled patients and crimes). The writer JongBeom Lee, a Psychology major himself, has received praise for using his own knowledge, researching relevant topics, and acquiring expert advice from psychologists before writing so that his work is supported by a backbone consisting of actual studies. As well, the series inspire readers to delve into psychology themselves, with anecdotes about how readers were inspired to study psychology often being found in the comments section.
Sure, the comics attract readers and pave the road for teaching them important concepts, such as the dangers of mental disorders or the necessity of keeping psychological tests and interventions away from public knowledge. But not everyone’s kissing Lee’s butt. Dr. Frost has received his fair amount of criticism for providing too much information and creating the risk of contamination.
A major reason behind the protection of psychological tests from the public is the fact that subjects’ previous exposure to the test in question may contaminate the results, as well as the tests themselves. Tests like the Rorschach test have been criticized for their accessibility by just about anybody with knowledge of Wikipedia (among other criticisms).
Diagnostic tests are particularly vulnerable to becoming exposed, as a “prepared” testee may be able to manipulate his/her answers for optimal outcomes (i.e. malingering). This could create disastrous consequences, such as criminals easily avoiding penalties by appearing to suffer from mental disorders. As well, what’s stopping the unqualified from distributing and administering the tests, then assessing and interpreting subjects’ results to their liking? What’s stopping any of us from (poorly) diagnosing random people with depression or autism if we know how their diagnostic tests are administered?
Provided that enough of a particular test has been revealed to the public, the test may even be deemed poor in validity and fail to serve its purpose anymore. Would measurements from tests such as the WAIS-R or the MMPI remain relevant when they can be prepared for? And what of past and future research based on these tests? Research comparing older test results with new data may become problematic since the norms may shift once the test items become public knowledge.
Not going to lie, I’ve had my fair share of enjoyment from reading Dr. Frost. I’ve learned a handful of things from the comics, and it’s always fun recognizing things from lectures. The problem comes when this enjoyment begins to supersede the ethics and integrity of psychological testing. Raising public awareness? I’m all for it. It’s great that psychology no longer remains the hokey-pokey mind-reading voodoo of the past to the public eye. But we do need to tread lightly before tests and interventions begin blowing up in all of our faces.
If anyone’s interested, here’s a link to the comics: