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I/O psychology: Faking out the fakers


Learning more about job applicant testing

"My approach to pre-employment personality tests has been zero tolerance vis-à-vis the obvious "crimes"--drug use and theft--but to leave a little wriggle room elsewhere, just so it doesn’t look like I’m faking out the test. My approach was wrong. When presenting yourself as a potential employee, you can never be too much of a suck-up."
Nickel & Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich, page 124.

Learning if job applicants are faking and finding out if it matters is a passion for Dr. Richard Griffith and his Applicant Response Behavior team. Griffith, director of the School of Psychology’s Industrial Organizational Psychology program, has researched personality tests since he was a doctoral student at the University of Akron. Continuing this work since coming to Florida Tech seven years ago, the effort is beginning to bear fruit.

Finding that previous attempts to model applicant faking have failed, he and his team of graduate students created a new methodology and analytical technique to model applicant response distortion. "Previous tools often capture the results of faking and not faking itself," said Griffith.

One of the team’s published papers, "Modeling Applicant Faking: New Methods to Examine an Old Problem," discusses the efforts--and limitations--of past researchers to model faking behavior, and explores the new methodology.

In the new model, which closely mirrors an applicant setting, individuals at a local community college were assessed under two types of conditions. First they completed a test while believing they were applying for an attractive, genuine job.

Then, after being debriefed and told that no job existed, they were asked to honestly fill out a personality measure so that their responses could be used in Griffith’s research study. The "applicants" were told that no one would see the results of the second test except the research psychologist.

"Our study marks the first time that data has been collected that can identify the applicants who faked, how much each one faked and if their scores are valid predictors of job performance," said Griffith.

The team has moved on, with more published results, to the question of whether or not test faking matters in employee selection, "We found that applicant faking had a substantial impact on the rank ordering of scores and thus on top-down selection," said Griffith. By once again applying a new model, the researchers found that, yes, individuals do fake in an applicant setting, and that this falsifying affects the rank ordering of applicants.

The next question, said Griffith, is "What are the consequences? Do the fakers turn out to be poor performers?" Does testing, in fact, ensure better employees?

Considering the booming personality-testing industry and the millions spent by employers hoping to reduce turnover and decrease search costs, the answers should be significant.

Griffith is also hoping to provide significant answers in another area of industrial/organizational psychology. He is working with Dr. John Deaton, chair of the School of Aeronautics’ Human Factors program, to apply psychology in the arena of "synthers." These are synthetic agents, driven by high-end computers, used in training Navy pilots. Replacing human trainers, they are also used in antiterrorist training for airport personnel or cultural awareness training for military and other government personnel.

Griffith has written a white paper on the dynamics of synthers and teams, and the development of trust between "man and machine". He is developing his concept into a proposal for the Navy. Research opportunities abound in Griffith’s I/O psychology program, which, for 2003-2004, enrolls 25 M.S. students and 10 Ph.D. students. The research-intensive doctoral program is the third largest in the country. The largest is his alma mater’s, the University of Akron; number two is at the University of Florida.

"With organizations evolving and businesses going more global, there is a growing demand for professionals in this field," said Griffith. "Making good use of testing, addressing productivity issues and supporting employees on international assignments are just some of I/O psychology’s important and fascinating areas of study."

Karen Rhine | EurekAlert!

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