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Assessment: Interviews and Direct Observation

Assessment: Interviews and Direct Observation

Author: Erick Taggart

Identify assessments that can be used in personality psychology.

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Hello, class. So in today's lesson, we're going to be looking at different forms of assessment within personality psychology. So if you recall, personality psychology is the study of people's individual patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving over time. So how do we determine what those patterns are for each person? Well, that leads to an assessment.

An assessment, or a test, is a way to help to measure the various different traits and aspects of a person's personality. So there are different tests for different kinds of theories. For example, they might have one test for trait theories, one for psychodynamic, and one for humanistic. Or they could be applicable to a wide range. And each one of these different types of assessments has different strengths and limitations.

The two we're going to talk about today are interviews and direct observations as types of assessments. And these are two types of assessments that are more qualitative, which is to say that they are based on descriptions and on observations themselves. So we're looking for the quality of the information. As well as being a bit more subjective, which is to say the questions depend more on the subject and on the psychologist. They're not necessarily the same for each person. So let's take a look at each of these individually, and their different strengths and weaknesses.

So first, an interview is what we would call a face-to-face conversation that a person has, where a person is asked questions by a psychologist and shares information about their psychological history, their current status, and their personality in general. So interviews can take two different forms. We can either have a structured interview, where they're asked a series of pre-planned questions, or it can be an unstructured interview, where it's open and informal discussion, and it's more directed by what the person wants to talk about themselves than by the psychologist.

So the strength of interviews is they can be tailored to individual subjects. So we can make them different depending on the needs of the subjects. We can also get a great deal of information from interviews, because we can talk to one subject in depth.

Now, weaknesses can be that interviews can be affected, or biased, by the subject or by the interviewer's preexisting beliefs. So what the subject looks like, for example, might affect how the psychologist is rating the person within the system.

There's also what we call the halo effect. The halo effect is the tendency to view a person as generally positive or negative, based on things like attractiveness, or on age. So it's been shown that when a person is physically attractive, a person is generally more likely to look at them as being intelligent, or being more worthwhile than other people. So you have to realize that this can have an effect on the information being gathered, and try to control for those kinds of things.

And finally, within an interview, a person can lie, and that can affect the information as well.

So the second type of assessment for today is direct observation. Direct observation means watching the subject within a naturalistic sort of setting to gather information about them. For example, we might go to a school and watch a child playing and interacting with other children, and this can give us information about that child's personality, as well as their social interactions.

So the strengths are that direct observations can give more in depth information, just like interviews, about the subjects. They can also provide more accurate information because it's within a natural setting, so they're not being affected by being put into a room with a psychologist and being in something that's unnatural or in some kind of strange environment.

Weaknesses, though, are that direct observation can be affected by observer bias, which is similar to interviews in that observer bias is when the observer records or perceives behaviors, and they tend to look for things that support their preexisting beliefs or things that are what they're looking for in other ways. For example, if you think that teens are more argumentative, then you tend to look for more times that they're being argumentative than the times that they're not. So you tend to look for those things more, and that focus affects the information that you're gathering.

So to prevent that, a lot of direct observations have different tools that help to control for that. For example, they might use a rating scale, and a rating scale is a list of traits or behavioral aspects that guides the observations and prevents misinterpretations. It tells them what to look for so they don't necessarily miss it within those situations.

And another thing that they might use is what's called a behavioral assessment, which is when an observer records how many times they observe certain kinds of behaviors. Instead of trying to measure the internal processes that are going on, or the different personality traits, they can just say each time they see a behavior that they're looking for. Then they mark it in one category, and each time they see different behaviors, then they mark them in different categories. For example, how many times a person mentions a subject in conversation, they might mark those things down.

So this isn't necessarily a foolproof way of collecting information, but these different kinds of tools help to control for those weakness.

Terms to Know
Behavioral Assessment

Evaluating the frequency of specific behaviors.

Direct Observation

Individual is asked to perform a team project together, interviewers watch the candidates' behavior and take notes but don't interact.

Halo Effect

Favorable view based on partial information or first impression, can complicate later information.


Evaluator asks a series of questions, face-to-face, about qualities, traits, their response to different scenarios, etc.

Rating Scale

Evaluation depends on a checklist of qualities wanted, some may be more important than other qualities.