Thursday, February 22, 2007

Personality Testing: Will Irises Replace Resumes?

Personality tests are no longer just a frivolous way to procrastinate, and they might end up costing you a job or two. More and more businesses are using tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator during the interview process to try and find the perfect fit for their company culture and reduce turnover. What do psychologists have to say about personality? Personality is not fixed, is not necessarily accurately determined by personality tests, and, unfortunately, is difficult to fake during such tests. In this post I am focusing on personality from the view of both a psychological and a business standpoint. I have commented on two recent blogs that have addressed the subject of personality developments in each prospective field, and have inserted my comments below. The first blog post I commented on, entitled The Iris is the Window to the Soul, is written by Dr. Vaughan Bell, a psychologist and one of the authors of the book “Mind Hacks,” pictured next to the comment. Bell overviews an exciting new psychological study that claims the eyes reveal certain personality traits- almost like palm readers and seeing the future, except this can be scientifically proven (the specific components of the iris, pictured and labeled above, are determinant of certain characteristics). In the second blog, author and founder of C.M. Russell discusses matching employees with the right jobs based on personality. In his post, Burn Jobs, Burn, Russell looks into the upcoming website JobBurner, pictured at the end of this post, which aims to use personality tests to synchronize the right applicants and companies.

“The Iris is the Window to the Soul”
This research is both impressive and disconcerting. While it is not surprising that personality is, at least in part, genetic, it is unbelievable and exciting that the irises more or less map out the personality. Mostly, it makes me wonder how such technology will be used in the future, and what its purpose is. Your comment that “the UK government wants to encode iris information on passports and keep copies on database to use in iris recognition systems” seems like a violation of privacy and is reminiscent of the futuristic movie Minority Report, in which eye scanning is used by both the government and by advertisers to identify and target individuals. I could even see eye scanning being used to screen applicants’ personalities for jobs. Lastly, I am unclear about a couple of concepts. You cited other similar studies that looked into the relationship between personality and color, which “fail to replicate the personality findings, typically because the effect tends to fade after early childhood.” Is Larsson's research primarily different and more successful because it is applicable in adults? If so, since personality is not stable, do our irises change with new personality developments? Hopefully, if this technique is used on younger children it will not lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy from parents!

“Burn Jobs, Burn”
I realize that it is not a new phenomenon to test applicants’ personalities during an interview, but JobBurner seems to be taking this to a new level. I am skeptical of their claim that their “patent-pending personality scoring system” will “generate better results” than existing ones. Personality tests, from a psychology standpoint, are never that accurate in the first place. Hopefully, businesses will take such results lightly and continue to focus more on experience, recommendations, and the quality of the interview. You quote that Shane Henderson, the CEO, “previously was Director of Development at and is an expert in software algorithms that match people together. I wonder how Henderson’s previous experience with personality testing will translate- it seems that a very different approach should be taken to match people romantically versus professionally. The bottom line is that job rejection has become even harder now that your personality score, not just your resume, is being critiqued.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Women in the Workplace: The Psychology of Business Communication

There has been a drastic shift in the business and gender debate in the past twenty years. Now, psychologists are not asking if women can survive in the business world but instead are researching how women can use their specific communication style as an advantage. Equally important, women are supporting each other in their leadership roles. Linda Hirshman, author of "Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World,” wrote in The Seattle Times about how presidential candidate Hilary Clinton may be counting on women’s votes to become the leader of the country. By allowing women to relate to her, through tactics such as “[announcing] her candidacy for president while sitting on her living-room couch,” Clinton, pictured to the right, may be able to get more female votes. Additionally, another article in The Business Review cites how successful businesswoman Melinda Wickley has recently joined the board of Women Executives Leading Empowering and Developing (WeLead), which is dedicated to “[empowering] women in leadership roles.” However, as Hirshman noted, outside support is not enough for women to become successful businesspeople and leaders. The challenges that they face through stereotypes and miscommunication call for independent and resourceful personalities.

One of the main challenges women face in the business world is in dealing with gender differences. Psychologists have been researching the causes of such dissimilarities for years—are they caused by nature or nurture? A staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, Joe Garofoli, reports on Louann Brizendine's ideas about the neurological differences between the sexes. This neuropsychiatrist has recently argued in her book The Female Brain that women are simply wired differently, which causes the difference between men and women’s actions in the workplace (the nature theory). She believes that women are, however, equally intelligent as men and simply need alternate accommodations in the business world.

No matter what the cause, nearly all psychologists agree that there are large communication gaps between genders that can cause miscommunication at work. Candy Tymson, a business communication expert with a background in public relations and marketing, separates communication into two broad styles. She categorizes men under the “Information Style,” in which the focus of communication is to “preserve independence and negotiate and maintain status.” In contrast, women more often utilize a “Relationship Style” by using verbal communication to establish bonds and “[negotiate] relationships.” Therefore, women in managerial positions are more likely to seek outside advice to form relationships, and businessmen may see this as weak and as a demotion of the woman’s status. Tymson also notes differences in nonverbal communication. During a presentation, a man will interpret a woman’s close attention and continual nodding as an acceptance of their proposal. Yet this is another way for women to establish bonds and show they are listening. Deborah Tannen echoes many of these ideas in “You Just Don't Understand.” Although not her most recent argument on the topic, the highly respected Tannen nonethtless makes valid points. She agrees that men use communication to establish their status, while women do so to establish relationships. This creates problems when women supervise men, because “for men, doing what [they are] asked to do means they have lost status in that relationship.” Women in leadership positions need to carefully approach male subordinates about completing tasks or accepting blame for mistakes. What women view as politeness or ways to facilitate the ease of conversation, men may mistake for weakness or lower status.

There is an apparent tension between women becoming successful leaders and being unable to communicate successfully with their male counterparts. How can women solve this dilemma, and can they become even better leaders than men? One of the two communication mistakes that women consistently make when dealing with men is to constantly apologize when they have done nothing wrong, as a way to lubricate conversation, and thank others unnecessarily. While other women will understand that “thank you” and “sorry” are often not meant literally, men often perceive both as a way to lower status by accepting help or blame. A specialist on gender communication, Simma Lieberman, makes some other useful suggestions. Businesswomen should work on “[getting] get to bottom line quickly and succinctly,” being patient when men are reluctant to solve problems collectively, and only asking for aid when needed. It is important to note, however, that they should not totally suppress their natural communication tendencies. Instead, women should simply be more aware of the consequences and possible misinterpretations of utilizing certain communication styles when working with men. It ought to be evident that women’s communication skills can be a strong asset in the business world, which has led some to surmise that women make better leaders in many situations. Of course, these broad suppositions about men and women are generalizations, and do not apply to all men or women—furthermore, they simply highlight the general differences between genders.

Carlinn Flora of Psychology Today believes just that—their collaborative communication style allows women to pass on important knowledge to subordinates (pictured to the left is the Forbes list of the top 100 women in 2006, many of which are business leaders). Additionally, her fellow author for Psychology Today, Lisa Mainiero, noticed in her study of successful women that “they tend to be better listeners, to have more insight into people, to come right out and say what they think, and not pull any punches.” These women were able to climb the corporate ladder by behaving bluntly and honestly, working assiduously, thinking creatively, and taking responsibility. This fusion of female communication skills reformatted to fit into the business sphere is what women need to be successful leaders.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Facebook: Does it Help or Hinder Hiring?

College graduates are beginning to face a brand new dilemma. While months ago they were being told to increase the privacy of online profiles, now Facebook, pictured on the right, is becoming a networking and job-hunting asset. This has inspired me to take a new approach to my post by commenting on two other blogs recently discussing Facebook and hiring practices. My comments can be seen in the following two paragraphs. The first post I chose to comment on is from the blog Unit Structures by Fred Stutzman, a Ph.D. student and established businessman. In his recent blog post entitled “You're not my Friend: A new look at Privacy on Facebook,” Stutzman researches how many undergraduate students use available privacy options for the site. The second post I commented on is by Katie Fehrenbacher, a reporter for GigaOM, who focuses on technology and companies. Her blog, “Jobster Gets a Facebook Lift,” comments on the recent agreement between the job posting site and Facebook.

“You're not my Friend: A new look at Privacy on Facebook”
First, I would like to say that I found your post and research interesting. However, I would like to disagree with, and expand on, some of your points. While you seemed surprised by the number of undergrads using privacy controls, stating, “We're no longer in a paradigm where privacy isn't important to students; they are mindful of their privacy and are acting to protect their interests,” your findings show that fewer than thirty percent of students were using these controls. Considering some of the content on many Facebook pages, such as addresses, telephone numbers, and explicit and personal pictures, this seems like far too small of a percentage. Additionally, you focused on how many students blocked other campus-affiliated parties from their profiles- is this really the issue? Since Facebook has expanded to allow just about anyone to join, it seems that the real concern is how many undergraduates are restricting those from outside of their college or university. More specifically, problems have occurred when employers or hiring managers have found a way to access student profiles to view their information.

“Jobster Gets a Facebook Lift”
Your post brings up many interesting questions about the direction Facebook is taking and how this will affect undergraduates currently utilizing the service. As “Jobster is adding a ’share on Facebook’ button on Thursday that will pull in aspects of the Jobster profile onto your Facebook page,” profiles on the site will now transform from a personal to a professional networking service. I wonder if this will create as much of an outcry from enraged Facebook users as the new “News Feed” option did, which gave the site much less of a private feel. In a way, linking Facebook to job searching takes the fun out of Facebook, which was originally created as a way to let college students network and share with their friends. College students have already been warned about having to try and hide their profiles from potential and current employers by raising privacy settings and taking off content that would seem inappropriate to such parties. Are they taking the fun out of Facebook, or was Facebook only a business venture in the first place?

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Repressed Memories: The Business of Unscientific Therapy

Most therapy consumers are savvy enough to recognize that rebirthing and past life regression are not realistic approaches to psychological health. However, numerous educated help-seekers would be surprised to discover that some publicized and professionally presented therapeutic methods offer little scientific support and have been widely discredited by psychologists and doctors. The best disguised of these therapies are those associated with repressed memories and helping victims of traumatic events, such as assault or rape. They build on the antiquated and discredited theories of Sigmund Feud, pictured to the right, the forefather of psychoanalysis. According to The Skeptic’s Dictionary, psychodynamic theory is “second only to Scientology as the champion purveyor of false and misleading claims about the mind, mental health, and mental illness.” Even Freud himself eventually relinquished some of his claims about repressed memory, a condition where memories of traumatic experiences are pushed into the unconscious. As indicated by ABC Science’s Dr. Karl S. Kruszelnicki, Freud later realized that he had unintentionally implanted false memories in his client’s minds, causing the memories to appear real to his patients.

Scientific studies have proven how easily repressed memories can be created by therapists. One of the most creative and renowned studies was conducted by Elizabeth Loftus, a psychology professor and expert on repressed memory. A writer for The Boston Globe, Joanna Weis, recalls how Loftus “persuaded some lab subjects, falsely, that they remembered hugging Bugs Bunny at Disneyland;” as Bugs Bunny is not a Disneyland character, this could not have occurred. By using her authority position as a psychologist or by tampering with childhood photographs, Loftus has successfully convinced subjects that they underwent fictitious distress.

Repressed memories have been discredited by psychological studies and even their creator, Freud; however many widely used therapies today are based on this aspect of psychodynamic theory. Hypnosis, pictured to the left, is one such technique that has been utilized to recover memories that have been, allegedly, submerged into the unconscious. The American Heritage® Science Dictionary has defined hypnosis as “a trancelike state resembling sleep, usually induced by a therapist by focusing a subject's attention, that heightens the subject's receptivity to suggestion.” The Skeptic’s Dictionary refutes claims about the validity of hypnosis, citing research that has shown “a significant correlation between being able to be absorbed in imaginative activity and being responsive to hypnosis,” and “hypnosis does not enhance the accuracy of memory.” In other words, rational, less susceptible subjects and those who do not believe in hypnosis will not believe they are recovering memories - those that do believe they have achieved such results are victims of false memory implantation by the hypnotist. Nicholas Spanos, a psychologist who has done research on hypnosis, has found that a “subject acts in accordance with expectations of the hypnotist and hypnotic situation” instead of actually being controlled by the power of hypnosis.

Dissociative identity disorder (DID), more commonly known in films and pop culture as multiple personality disorder, is known to be discovered in patients through methods like hypnosis. Although it is sighted in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, pictured below, psychology professors and experts often claim that DID is actually the result of therapy and implanted memories connected to trauma. Symptoms, such as the belief that one has many personalities, usually begin after a client has started psychodynamic therapy and has been encouraged by the therapist that they have DID. Dr. Paul McHugh shows the strategies that therapists use to create such symptoms in clients. He sites a specialist on DID, Dr. Stephen Buie, who encourages psychologists to find out if their patient has the disorder. Buie says “You may have to elicit an alter... You can begin by indirect [sic] questioning such as, 'Have you ever felt like another part of you does things that you can't control?’” While the therapist genuinely believes they are helping a patient come to terms with an alternate personality, they are asking leading questions. Many clients will answer that, at times, they have felt out of control. From an unethical business perspective, this is a lucrative opportunity for therapists, who have “created both the disease and the cure,” according to Psychologist Nicholas P. Spanos.

Another form of therapy, related to repressed memories and used to help trauma victims, that has been widely discredited by professionals is EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). The confusing part about its ineffectiveness and lack of scientific support is that it seems to work. However, according to The Skeptic’s Dictionary, EMDR practitioners are simply combining a harmless and ineffective action, the moving of the eyes back and forth, with other successful therapy approaches for post-traumatic stress disorder, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. As in this case, if a therapist is lacking a license in psychology or psychiatry and practices psychoanalysis, hypnosis, or EMDR, any possible success may simply be due to a placebo effect. More importantly, utilizing repressed memories could do actual harm to a client. However, empirically supported treatment plans are available to consumers. A proven treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder or other trauma related problems is cognitive-behavioral therapy, a quick behavior-changing method practiced by many trained psychologists.