Psychometrics: Measuring Ourselves, with John Rust

We engage in psychometrics throughout our lives, from primary school tests to job applications, via the only personality quiz. But psychometrics have often reinforced inequalities, and their power in a world of Big Data raise urgent ethical questions. Professor John Rust explains.

S2 E22: Psychometrics: measuring ourselves

“Psychometrics is one of the most important or influential areas of applied psychology”

Psychometrics, the study of personality and ability, began with the Chinese Imperial Court exams, which measured intelligence and civility, as well as archery and horse-riding. Via the East India Company, testing - of intelligence as well as psychological traits - spread to the British and French civil service, and then onwards to education. Psychometrics gave us exams.

John Rust, one of the world’s foremost authorities, walks us through the history and politics of psychometrics, from eugenics and the fraught question of race and IQ, through to the four core psychographic theories of personality: Freud’s psychoanalysis, Carl Rogers’ Humanistic Theory of person, the Social Learning approach, to the Genetic (Rust’s own focus). In the process, he tackles the very politics of testing, psychometry’s complicated place in the world of psychology, and the validity of Myers-Briggs and OCEAN tests.

“It’s a remarkably important area of science. If we can get it right, we can do lots of good. If you get it wrong, there can be a disaster.”

Listen to John explain:

  • The origins of psychometrics
  • The problem with Evolutionary Psychology
  • The Naturalistic Fallacy
  • Myers-Briggs and Big 5 Theories of Personality
  • The Flynn Effect
  • The ethics of psychometrics in the age of Big Data and ‘Surveillance Capitalism’

Works cited include:

Read the Full Transcript

John Rust

John Rust is the founder of The Psychometrics Centre and an Associate Fellow of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence. He is also a Senior Member of Darwin College.

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This page was last edited on Wednesday, 9 Jun 2021 at 11:29 UTC